Interview with Kiss Me, Kate star Corbin Bleu
Ever since rocketing to fame in 2006 as Chad Danforth in Disney's "High School Musical" (propelled even further into teen stardom by the 2007 and 2008 movie sequels), Corbin Bleu's career as a triple threat performer can undoubtedly be described with just three words... "Too Darn Hot"! As that chapter of his life came to a close (as all High Schoolers must eventually graduate), the Disney Channel's loss was musical theatre's gain because it was just a matter of time before Broadway came a-knockin'. In January 2010, Corbin made his Broadway debut as Usnavi in Lin-Manuel Miranda's hit musical In the Heights, which he followed up with a 2012 turn as Jesus in Godspell on the Great White Way. Arguably, he would become a true Broadway star when he originated the role of Ted Hanover (played in the 1942 movie by one of his childhood idols, Fred Astaire) in Roundabout Theatre Company's 2016 premiere of Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical at Studio 54. He earned great praise from critics and brought down the house, thanks in particular to his extraordinary tap skills.
Corbin has also starred in Hairspray and Mamma Mia! at The Hollywood Bowl, Singin' in the Rain at The Muny in St. Louis, and Anything Goes at Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage, but now, thanks once again to Roundabout Theatre Company, he is back where he belongs at Studio 54, starring as Bill Calhoun (and Lucentio) in the 2019 Broadway revival of the Cole Porter classic Kiss Me, Kate! "Another Op'nin', Another Show," as they say... But this time, he has a Drama Desk Award nomination for "Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical" to boast for his efforts.
We recently caught up with Corbin to chat about the Golden Age of musicals, racial diversity and, of course, Kiss Me, Kate!
It’s not your first time at the Roundabout Theatre Company rodeo. You gave such a stellar performance as Ted Hanover in Holiday Inn, The Irving Berlin Musical and now you’re back at Studio 54 to star in Kiss Me, Kate. What’s been the most surprising and rewarding parts of your Roundabout experience this time around?
Well, one big difference this time was to receive a Drama Desk Award nomination. I’d never been nominated for a Drama Desk before. I presented at the Drama Desk Awards ceremony when I had my Broadway debut in In the Heights back in 2010. I presented an award to Catherine Zeta Jones for A Little Night Music. That was an introduction to the broader theatre world in general for me.
And tells us a bit about your current role of Bill Calhoun in Kiss Me, Kate. He seems like a bit of a rogue, but ultimately has a good heart.
What I’ve always found interesting about Bill is that he truly does love Lois. He just also loves gambling. You know, we all have our vices and I think both Bill and Lois do. But they accept each other for who they are. What I do love though about this arc up to the musical number “Bianca,” I feel that’s him saying: “If you can stop being such a little whore, I might be able to put aside my gambling addiction as well.” With Bill, dance is his expression. When we were coming up with that number, he’s writing this song and the words just aren’t working. Everybody around him is not necessarily responding to the words as much, so it’s not until he starts speaking with his feet that everybody joins in and goes: “Ah. OK, we get it.”
I’m always grateful to the Roundabout Theatre Company for bringing us the classic musicals delivered in a classic, Golden Age way. Sadly, there aren’t many musical revivals on Broadway these days with the growing number of jukebox musicals and film-to-stage adaptations out there. How important is it for you to be a part of the more nostalgic side of Broadway?
I think every genre has its place, but unfortunately I think you are correct in that we don’t get to see the Golden Age musicals done in their proper form anymore. Even just to have tap on Broadway! It’s an art form that’s just not seen as much anymore. I grew up loving the Golden Age musicals. I grew up watching Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire and always wanted to be a part of that world. I miss those MGM days. I wish we were still in those days and I could be in those musicals. They really incorporate every form of performance. And being a person of color growing up and watching those musicals, I really didn’t have anyone like me to look up to really. So, it feels wonderful to be able to do it on stage. I love this genre! There’s such a romanticism to it and I’m a romantic at heart.
When you think back to your “High School Musical” days for Disney, did you also feel you were representing as a person of color in a predominantly Caucasian franchize?
Growing up, because I’m mixed race, having an Italian mother and a Jamaican father, I didn’t see a racial divide as much. I’m very happy that was the case. It wasn’t until I was much older and got a little bit more aware that I would join in on the conversation of how important diversity is. Only then did I realize how important it is for me to lead that fight.
Well, it’s great to see racial diversity in this 2019 Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate. In closing, what can theatregoers expect from a trip to Studio 54 to see this new production?
It is the perfect musical. You have everything in this show. It’s funny and the dancing is insane! You’ll never see anything like this, when it comes to dancing. And the vocals?! You have Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase and the two of them together make not only a great comedy team, but their singing and their musical performances are gorgeous! The ensemble is so, so strong and there isn’t an element in the show that I feel is lacking. I don’t say that just because I’m in it. I say that as a fan. As someone who gets to share the stage with these people every night and look around at the impressiveness of everyone I’m surrounded by, this really is something you don’t want to miss!
Kiss Me, Kate! Tickets are available now for performances through June 30, 2019.
(Header photo by Austin Yang)