To hear Corbin Bleu describe it, forces greater than his own are responsible for his taking on the role of Jesus in Godspell, the popular revival currently enjoying a successful run at Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theatre.
“It was serendipitous, how it all came into place,” says Bleu, who will replace Hunter Parrish in the production beginning April 17. While he had never before seen Godspell, the Los Angeles-based actor knew of it and was familiar with several of the better-known songs from the show. While visiting New York several months ago, he saw the show, where he says he was “blown away by this incredibly talented cast. I was completely ecstatic. I laughed and cried; I loved the show. Watching the life and the joy that they created on that stage, I kept thinking that I would want to be a part of that.” Later that night after the show, he met with director Daniel Goldstein.
Even though it was just a casual conversation, “I noticed he seemed almost weirded out by my presence,” Bleu remembers. “It turns out just the day before, my name had been tossed around as a potential replacement. And then here I show up the very next day!”
Godspell won’t be Bleu’s first time on the boards. The actor, perhaps best known as Chad Danforth in the wildly successful High School Musical franchise, made his Broadway debut in 2010 as a replacement in the leading role of Usnavi in the Tony-winning In the Heights. “What’s funny is that I never buy the cast album at a show. But I loved Godspell and bought the album. And the only other time I did that was at In the Heights!”
Nonetheless, theater has always been in Bleu’s blood. The son of actor parents, Bleu, 23, was born and raised in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood before his family moved to Los Angeles. From an early age, his parents took him to see Broadway shows. “The Phantom of the Opera was my first show,” Bleu remembers. “I saw it with Davis Gaines in it when I was five. The second I was introduced to theater, I was hooked.”
When he was young, however, Bleu moved with his family to Los Angeles, where he eventually found fame with the Musical movies. High School Musical 2 premiered to 18 million viewers, making it the Disney Channel’s highest-rated original movie and the highest-rated program in cable history. The follow-up, High School Musical 3: Senior Year, received a theatrical release that grossed more than $250 million worldwide.
“We’ve been able to go off and have these successful careers,” Bleu says of his Musical co-stars, “but we keep in touch. I just recently saw Lucas [Grabeel].” Where did this encounter take place? “We were in Disneyland!”
Still, Bleu says he is thrilled to have the chance to return to the stage and to New York City, which he describes as being “always home in my heart.” Bleu, who is scheduled to be with the show until July 22, is quite inspired by his new character, though he acknowledges the role will be a test for him. “There’s this blend of lightheartedness and absolute drama in the show. It’s fun for the audience, but it’s also a serious story about a human being with free will who chose a life where he could be the best person he could be. [Godspell] shows the moments of doubt that he had, and how he chose to accept his own death. He wasn’t just some robot programmed to do good. Imagine if we all truly tried to be the best people we could be.”
Another one of the challenges Bleu faces in joining Godspell is a logistical one. Goldstein’s production is performed in the round rather than on a traditional proscenium stage, which steepens the learning curve. “Since the stage goes around in a circle, you have to make sure you know which way to go or you’re in trouble!” he said with a laugh. “Even the terminology is different – they say things like ‘12 o’clock’ instead of ‘stage right.’”
With a positive attitude and a talented pedigree like his, there’s little doubt that Bleu will find his way.
By Doug Strassler
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