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Corbin Bleu Taps His Way Back to Broadway

Corbin Bleu as Billy Crocker in Arena Stage's production of Anything Goes. Photo by Maria Baranova, Courtesy Arena Stage

Corbin Bleu's theater gigs are the skimpiest part of his resumé, which includes not just High School Musical, but everything from horror films to "Dancing with the Stars." His first two Broadway shows, In the Heights and Godspell, didn't particularly showcase his dancing, but in 2016, he tapped and fox-trotted his way to a Chita Rivera Award in Holiday Inn, the New Irving Berlin Musical. Last year, he did Singin' in the Rain in St. Louis and the 1934 Cole Porter musical Anything Goes in Washington, DC. This month, he returns to Broadway in another classic Porter show, playing Bill Calhoun in Kiss Me, Kate at Studio 54. But when we caught up with him, there was another Bill on his mind—he had just opened as Billy Crocker in the Arena Stage production of Anything Goes.


You’ve done several vintage musicals lately. Is this where you’re taking your career?

I have always bounced back and forth, but if I'm honest, I prefer being onstage. I love having the audience as another character to bounce off of—I feel so much more alive. But it's wearing to do eight shows a week month after month. It is really wonderful to do a show and live in that world, and then go back and be on a set, where I'm not necessarily killing my body eight times a week. And you know, film and television pay the bills.

You’re going to have just a week between Anything Goes and the first rehearsal of Kiss Me, Kate. How will you make that transition? 

I'm gonna be in extra-top shape going into rehearsal. And my mind will be in theater mode, Cole Porter mode. And now that Anything Goes is open, I have my days free, so I'll start to dive into the Kiss Me, Kate script and music, and start working on character—all that fun, all that pre-work. And because we have the Shakespeare backdrop, I'll also dive into The Taming of the Shrew, read it again, break that down again. Should be fun.

Doesn’t the Shakespeare scare you? 

No, I went to an arts high school. I studied Shakespeare there. I've done other Shakespeare productions. Three years ago I did a really cool Romeo and Juliet in Los Angeles, set in the '90s. There was music by Pat Benatar, the text was Shakespeare.

Bill Calhoun was originally played by iconic Broadway dancer Harold Lang. You also did the Fred Astaire role in Holiday Inn. Does that intimidate you? 

No, because I'm not them. I just finished doing Singin' in the Rain—what bigger shoes to fill than Gene Kelly's? The second you start to think that way, you're in trouble. There are aspects we will honor, that I will look to for inspiration. But we're gonna do our 2019 version, with my shoes.

Whenever anyone does High School Musical, the new Chad will be anxious about filling your shoes.

I would say the same thing for anybody that plays Chad: "Don't try to fill my shoes. Do you."

Looking back, what did playing Chad mean to you?

The years that I spent with that project— three films and two international tours, concert tours, continuing a music career, putting out my own solo albums—it was quite a whirlwind, and also surreal. We were teenagers living like rock stars. It was a wonderful thing, and I'm very appreciative of it. At the same time, you can't live in the past. It's good to honor it, and look back and learn, but it's always about moving forward.

What do you look forward to in Kiss Me, Kate?

I'm super-stoked to work with Warren Carlyle! Tap is my all-time favorite form. I've been tapping since I was 2 years old. For some reason, my feet really enjoy the movement.

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