Ted Sod: Why did you choose to do the stage musical adaptation of Holiday Inn and the role of Ted Hanover?
Corbin Bleu: I have always been a fan of traditional musical theatre and Irving Berlin. When you think of Berlin’s music, it is really the foundation of American musical theatre. Holiday Inn is based on the movie musical that starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire… two legends of that genre. Fred Astaire has always been a big inspiration for me, and tap dancing has been a huge part of my life since I was two years old. So, for me, the opportunity to tap as well as to originate a role on Broadway made it easy to say, “Yes!” I’ve taken over roles on Broadway before, and I loved being part of those shows. I felt like they were exactly what I needed at the time. Those shows gave me the chance to understand a Broadway schedule and what it takes to be in a Broadway musical, which requires every ounce of your being. I am very excited to create the role of Ted from scratch at Roundabout. I’m looking forward to the challenge.
TS: How much preparation do you do for a role like this?
CB: When I first started delving into the character of Ted, I was studying the time period and basing my ideas off of the movie. When Gordon Greenberg, the director, and I started working together, he really wanted to break that down and strip that away. He wanted it to be less about the period and more modern. It was a little bit of a shock
at first. But when you see something through someone else’s eyes, it can be a great awakening. It makes so much sense to approach the work naturally and relate it to our time. That’s the thing with a lot of traditional musical theatre shows. People will go to them and it just doesn’t translate anymore, it doesn’t connect, and it can be very boring or it can feel contrived. Gordon is really trying to do this period musical differently. He is really trying to capture, stylistically, the music and dance of the time, but as far as the tone of the show, he really wants it to feel more contemporary.
Corbin Bleu and Bryce Pinkham
TS: Can you talk a little bit about your process as an actor? What’s important to you?
CB: It depends on the project. With a show like this, I think that the dancing is going to be a very big part of the equation for me. Ted Hanover is very suave and debonair and full of himself. The ladies love him, and a lot of it has to do with his talent and his ability. So the dancing is a huge aspect of the process for me. I think that when you watch Fred Astaire, it’s mind-blowing. His dancing is so intricate and complicated, and yet he makes it look like it’s effortless. That ease comes with time. It really is just putting in hours, so I’m going to be working diligently with Denis Jones, the choreographer. I know he’s going to be pushing me, but my plan is to also push him. I really, really want to try and push the boundaries as far as I can with the dancing in this show. As far as character and the scene work is concerned, I really just want to pick Gordon’s brain and understand his vision because we all just need to be on the same page. You try as an actor to do your own homework and research, but a lot of the time you’ve prepped something that’s not necessarily what you needed. I think we have to ask ourselves: What’s entertaining? What touches people? It’s our job to tell a story that’s interesting and that people connect and relate to.
TS: A big part of the story is the relationship between Ted and Jim. Do you sense that they’re like brothers and that they’re somewhat competitive?
CB: I think that they’re very competitive, Ted probably even more so than Jim. Ted is about himself; he wants the limelight, he wants to be a star, he wants to be the best, and it comes from greed. With Jim, I think it’s something a bit deeper than that, and that’s why he ends up leaving the business. I’m really looking forward to working with Bryce Pinkham, who is playing Jim. I saw him in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, and I thought he was fantastic, and just getting a chance to read with him during the audition process was exciting.
TS: What do you think the musical is about?
CB: I think it’s about how everybody approaches their life’s work differently. Yes, the backdrop is American holidays and the hotel, but I think the audience sees what being alive means to each one of the main characters. Holiday Inn encompasses the entertainment industry through the lens of the holidays we celebrate. It’s wonderful to be in a show that is about celebrating because we’re in a time right now where we could use it. There’s so much uncertainty and turmoil in the world, and sometimes just to be able to experience the joy of characters for a few hours on Broadway is a relief.
TS: What do you look for from a director, musical director and choreographer?
CB: What I love in a director, and I see it in Gordon, is someone who knows what they want. There’s a big difference between a director who knows what they want and is able to trust their actors to find it, and someone who just barks and doesn’t also understand how to communicate. Gordon—I think because of his background—knows how to communicate with his actors, and he has a vision. Denis, the choreographer, is someone who doesn’t just choreograph and teach, he really pays attention to the actors and story to find what can organically flow in the movement. And I think he wants to take the dancing up a notch and showcase it differently. As for the musical direction, I think that’s where our footing is in terms of remaining in the classical world. Irving Berlin’s music is hard to mess with. I know there are certain pieces that we’re speeding up tempo-wise and we’re giving them some zhoosh, but for the most part, the songs are classic and beloved by the audience.
Corbin Bleu and Megan Sikora
TS: Where did you get your training? I read that you moved from Brooklyn, where you were born, to Los Angeles when you were about seven, is that true?
CB: Yes! Because I grew up in this industry, a lot of my teaching has been experiential. I was thrust into it at such a young age, and when I say thrust—I gravitated towards it. My father is an actor as well, and my mom used to do it. I have three younger sisters; none of them do it. They’re all interested in the medical field, but from the get-go, I was always drawn to it. I was blessed and lucky enough to be able to start so young. I worked off- Broadway when I was six.
TS: And did you have any schooling prior to Los Angeles, or was all of your schooling in Los Angeles?
CB: All of my schooling was in LA. The high school that I went to is a performing arts school called LACHSA, Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. I didn’t go to college, although I was accepted into Stanford. I started working and having a degree of success early on, and I needed to continue to push forward, so a lot of my schooling has been on my own. I’ve always tried to keep myself as well-rounded as possible and extend my work through all facets of the arts. I’ve always done everything from theatre to film and television and music, and more recently, hosting.
TS: Was your father a role model for you as a performer?
CB: Yes, very much so. I still will go and run lines with him and take direction from him. From the beginning, he’s always been there.
TS: I’m curious if you have advice for a young person who thinks that they might want to do what you do.
CB: Know your intentions. It’s important to remember that every choice has a consequence, so you need to know your intentions—know why you’re doing it. If you’re doing it for fame and fortune, the times that that pans out are very few and far between. Do it because you know you can’t live without it and that when you’re performing, you’re happy. Never stay in one place; it’s important to break yourself down and rebuild yourself. You can’t get better if you don’t keep training. Give yourself time to change and grow.
TS: I think that’s great advice, Corbin. I have one last question for you: is there a question you wish I had asked about yourself or about Holiday Inn that I didn’t ask?
CB: I think you covered it. I’m actually about to get married.
TS: Wow! Congratulations.
CB: Thank you.
TS: You’re getting married before rehearsals start?
CB: It’s all happening at the exact same time.
TS: Who are you marrying?
CB: Sasha Clements, soon-to be Sasha Reivers. Bleu is my middle name and my professional name.
TS: Are you going to get to have a honeymoon?
CB: No. I mean it’s postponed at the moment. I feel terrible because of course I want us to go on a honeymoon. I’d love to have time for that, but, you know, she’s an actress as well, a phenomenal one actually, and she’s traveling today to film a movie. So we’re in this crazy business together. She’ll be coming to New York, and we’ll get a chance to spend some time with one another, but I am determined to go on a real honeymoon at some point.
Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical is now playing at Studio 54. Visit our website for tickets and more information.
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