Christian Delcroix’s saga is the sort we should be telling to our kids.
In an age when college students seem to be bypassing their dreams in search of the quick riches promised by Wall Street, Delcroix—a kid from Pittsburgh; a kid from Florida State—wanted to perform. He wanted to sing and dance and leap and laugh and cry in front of audiences. And not just any audiences—the biggest ones. The ones on Broadway.
And here he is.
As we speak, Delcroix is portraying Young Buddy in the Broadway revival of Follies. He’s also served his time here in New York in South Pacific, and has an acting resume that’s both impressive and eye-catching. Here, he talks Plaxico, Seminoles, why Pittsburgh would be an ideal host city for the Olympics and what it’s like being a straight male in a profession where, well, the cliche leans elsewhere.
Christian Delcroix, Quaz with us …
JEFF PEARLMAN: So Christian, I’m going to start off with a doozie. Your friend Scott told me that you’re about to become a father. I’m assuming—based on his subtle word choices—that this means you’re not gay. Which means you’re ideal for this question: Clearly theatre—and especially musical theatre—is a comfortable place for gay men, and has been for a long time. So I wonder: Throughout your life in the arts, have people assumed you were gay? Do people ask? And, growing up, was it ever strange/different/awkward/whatever to be a straight male performer? Also, does the openness of sexuality in theatre result in different dynamics than say, at the local law office?
CHRISTIAN DELCROIX: So, yes, you are correct that I am a straight man working in musical theatre. I started getting into it around junior high, which clearly raised eyebrows in my school. As shitty as that is, its the world we live in. I think some people get out of the theatre at a young age because they canʼt stand the accusations and bullying. I luckily escaped all (well, most) of this … which had a lot to do with my older brother Chuck. He was extremely “popular” with all crowds … a true everyman, if you will. His inﬂuence and general goodwill toward all spared me the taunting that Im guessing others would have received. Therefore, it made it easier for me. As Iʼve progressed in my career though, people absolutely do assume I am gay because of what I do. It doesnʼt bother me at all though because I do the same thing really. On the ﬁrst day of rehearsal when meeting the cast, its natural to play the game in your head of Whoʼs Straight and Who’s Gay. I have always been comfortable around the gay community … although differentiating between a gay and straight community seems a little weird. In theatre, as cliche as it is, you truly are a part of one big community. That’s the beauty of our business compared to the local law ofﬁce I think … the openness of all involved and the ability to adapt to all walks of life in an easier, more comfortable way.
J.P.: You play Young Buddy in the Broadway production of Follies. You also played Young Buddy in Washington DC. That’s a helluva lot of Young Buddy. For you, how does a role stay fresh, when you’re repeating the same words over and over and over again, night after night? Does it ever get boring? Do you ever feel like just giving it a rest and staying home to eat ice cream?
C.D.: I have always prided myself on keeping the material fresh every night. The easiest way to do this really is to simply be present on stage. It’s easy to phone in performances (something I certainly ﬁnd myself guilty of occasionally), and easy to play the scene in the same way every night. To me, that is so boring. I love ﬁnding new things to do and new moments onstage from show to show. A lot of times, the things that spontaneously happen are terrible … but, hell, they are a product of being alive in a scene and not of being a bad actor. At least thats what I always tell myself to feel better. There are times when I want to stay home and eat ice cream or go out and have a few beers, but then I tell myself that I’m incredibly lucky to be given the opportunites I have, and to get my ass on stage!
J.P.: Can you explain, as best as possible, the magic of Broadway? Because it seems like everyone in your business wants to get there.
C.D.: Let me begin by saying that I just deleted a long and drawn out explanation of why I think Broadway has a certain kind of magic. It was too much. Getting to Broadway for a young actor is our “hitting a walk-off home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to win the game”. Its what is instilled in is from a young age as a measure of success, so I think most, if not all, actors dream of it. Once you get older, you realize that incredible theatre is being done all over the world and not just on Broadway. Which, of course, doesnʼt take anything from Broadway. It still was the ultimate goal for me when I chose this career, and I count myself extremely fortunate to have reached that goal twice now.
J.P.: What’s your path? Obviously you’ve had tremendous success—but how’d you get here? How’d it start? And is this what you expected long ago?
C.D.: I always loved to sing, ﬂail my body around spastically, and generally act like a jag-off (to use a Pittsburgh word) growing up. It was the summer after eighth grade, though, that I thought about doing something serious with all that energy. I enrolled in classes over the summer at a place called Pittsburgh Musical Theatre, and knew after that one summer its what I wanted to do. I still liked playing sports (particularly baseball and golf) but I wasnʼt nearly good enough at either one. I stayed with that company throughout high school doing numerous shows and continuously taking classes. From there, I went to Florida State University and got a BFA in Music Theatre. I wanted a school with an incredible program, great sports teams, and, to be honest, a good party atmosphere. Those four years provided me with all of that … especially the training. I had the best class ever who are all still my best friends, and our teachers were all so inspirational and just great people. After that, I moved to NYC and clowned around for a bit, enamored with the endless possibilities for clowning around that the city provided me. Once I calmed down a little and started taking my profession seriously, things started going a lot better for me.
J.P.: Earlier this year you took some time to play Horton in “Seussical” at the Pittsburgh Musical Theater. Dude, you’re a star on Broadway. What the heck?
C.D.: Well, I donʼt think Iʼd go so far as to say I’m a star on Broadway. But thanks for the optimism!! Iʼve been fortunate enough to be in two incredible revivals thus far … but I still have a long way to go. Pittsburgh Music Theatre gave me my start when I was young and has always welcomed me back with open arms. The founder, Ken Gargaro, is a dear friend and a mentor of mine. I jump at any opportunity I can to go back and be a role model for all the kids working with the company now. I get to do roles that I may never get the chance to do anywhere else and I get to stay for a couple weeks with my family. I still love Pittsburgh and miss it so much, so I love going back and will continue to do so in between working in the city hopefully.
J.P.: You moved to New York eight years ago after graduating from Florida State. Give me your absolute worst I’m-going-to-the-Big Apple-to-be-a-star story; like, your lowest, lowest moment trying to make it big …
C.D.: My worst moment was one of my ﬁrst auditions in the city. I had just graduated from college and, as a result of our showcase here in the city was graciously invited to the ﬁnal day of callbacks for the Broadway cast of Mamma Mia. My brother and I drove up from the Burgh and preceded to go out for “one” beer. Well, that was clearly a terrible idea. I showed up the next day and sounded like a Muppet my voice was so fried. I tried singing my song and almost threw up my vocal cords in the room. When asked to sing something a little easier, I fessed up to not having any other piece of music. I was promptly told to “not come back in” for that casting company til “I get my shit together.” And rightly so. It wasnʼt until five years later that they called me in again. I left pretty upset. I wasnʼt really ready, maturity-wise, to work as hard as I needed to. I realize that now, but oddly donʼt regret it. I learned so much those lean years that are invaluable to who I am now. But it still sucked pretty bad failing that miserably.
J.P.: So you were doing small threatre, trying to make it, when you landed the role of Yeoman Herbert Quale in South Pacific on Broadway. I love how this can work in theatre—one day you’re begging from crumbs, the next you have a dream gig. How did you land that part, and how did you react when you learned of the job? Do you remember where you were? Who you called? What you felt?
C.D.: South Paciﬁc was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and ﬁnding out about it was surreal. It goes back to that whole idea of getting to Broadway and achieving such a lofty goal. I remember my best friend from college, Mike Evariste, called me in the morning and said he just heard he got it. We had a deal that one would call the other when we heard. I was ecstatic for him and, of course, a little upset I hadnʼt gotten a call. So I called my agent immediately after talking to him, and they told me the good news. I then called Mike right back and we celebrated on the phone for awhile and a lot later that night of course. I remember I called every family member individually and shared a few tears. It was amazing—I imagined that moment for so long and to ﬁnally live it was a little bit of an out of body experience. I kinda walked around all day on cloud nine, and was ﬁlled with such a feeling of pride. I donʼt think getting to Broadway validates a career at all, but it did make all those hours training and working all the more worth it. More than anything, I was proud to tell my family. They were the ones who never stopped believing in me no matter what, so hearing their reactions and sensing their sense of pride was overwhelming.
J.P.: What do most theatre veterans think—really, truly, honestly think—of TV and film actors? Is there a lack of respect? A “That’s cake” sort of perspective? Because if I performed live before a huge crowd every night, I’d like at, say, CSI and think, “Not even the same ballpark …”
C.D.: Well, the two are clearly different. However, I donʼt look at TV actors and think their job is cake. There are so many different layers and nuances to acting on camera that are just as hard to master. Its the difference between landscape painting and abstract painting. Theyʼre both equally challenging in their own way, and I think both just as rewarding. With that said, I havenʼt really done a lot of “on camera” work, so I could be wrong. But I do have an enormous amount of respect for TV and ﬁlm actors.
Stage acting gives you endless chances to get a scene right … camera acting gives you a handful. So what actors on screen can convey with the limited amount of “tries” is pretty incredible. The one thing I cannot stand, however, is reality television. Actors who watch reality television as well frustrate me. The amount of scripted television is declining every day and those actors who are fans of these shows donʼt realize that there are countless job opportunities not available to them because of these stupid, inane shows. The very thought of the Jersey Shore clowns making six ﬁgures to basically drink and act like jerks is APPALLING to me! And I couldnʼt care less about The Real Housewives series. I get sick even thinking about it honestly. I know thats not exactly what you asked, but my mind went there and I had to vent. My apologies.
J.P.: What does it feel like standing on stage before a packed house, knowing you just nailed it, watching a standing ovation rise; knowing it’s for you? Seriously, I’d love to know what that’s precisely like …
C.D.: Its a feeling of accomplishment and pride. Knowing those people were affected by your hard work and took a journey with you is incredible. Its almost as if for those few precious moments, you form a bond with the audience and know them all personally. Like you just shared an inside joke. It never gets old, I’ll tell ya that.
J.P.: I covered Major League Baseball for many years, and the clubhouses always disappointed me in that black players usually stuck with black players, whites with whites, Asians with Asians, etc … etc. I’m wondering—what is the dynamic like behind the scenes for a cast? Do y’all hang? Are there divisions? Are people generally supportive, or do rivalries and cliques form?
C.D.: Iʼve been lucky enough to be in two of the most incredible casts one could ever ask for here in New York. There are certain groups of people who may hang out more than others, of course, but insofar as cliques and such, there really isnʼt anything like that. Human nature is such that not everyone will like everyone, but generally that doesnʼt extend past personal misgivings. As far as a racial divide, there is positively none of that. Like gay/straight, black/white or white/asian or black/latino, doesnʼt really exist in theatre. As opposed to baseball, where a relief pitcher has little to no association with a reserve right ﬁelder, an onstage cast is one big troupe all working off of each other and with each other to achieve a singular goal. When I was doing South Paciﬁc, however, our director Bartlett Sher, brilliantly sequestered the group of african-american guys on purpose for all of the scenes. This led to a rehearsal process where they had their own jokes and stories, and the group of white guys had their own as well. It didnʼt extend past the rehearsal room or stage, but during that time, it was such an odd feeling.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CHRISTIAN DELCROIX
• You get a call from a director wanting you to play Sarah Palin’s husband Todd in the made-for-TV movie, Palin: An American Icon. It pays very well. Do you do it?: Absolutely not. The words ʻSarah Palinʼ and ʻIconʼ should never be used in the same sentence.
• Daryl Hall, Huey Lewis or Jeffrey Osborne: Daryl Hall (although I am a Huey Lewis fan, too).
• Who are your five all-time favorite actors?: Robert Duvall, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, Jeff Bridges.
• Would you rather perform Young Buddy in the nude before a packed house one time, or change your stage name for a year to Vagina Edward III?: In the nude. Although that name has a nice ring to it.
• The winner of the 2012 presidential election will be …: Obama
• Best moment as an actor? Worst?: Best—Singing “Being Alive” my ﬁnal year of college at the end of Company in front of my entire family. Worst—Having to completely start a scene over in a high school production of Bye Bye Birdie because I absolutely could not stop laughing. A one-minute scene turned into a three act play.
• What sort of impact will Plaxico Burress have on the Jets?: Minimal. Heʼs coming back after quite a long time away from the game and trying to get back into game shape, learn a new offense, and mesh with a pretty mediocre quarterback. Between Holmes, Keller, and a big year ahead for Greene, heʼs gonna be in the background for a while.
• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, details …: Every time I ﬂy. Its borderline obsessive. The slightest rock of the plane and I close my eyes and pray compulsively. Sometimes I even sing Amazing Grace out loud. No joke … the people around me think I’m crazy.
• How long does it take an actor to know his show isn’t going to last? And is there a tell-tale sign?: Iʼd say right away. You get a certain feeling from the audiences response. If it’s tepid, you can count out word-of-mouth business.
• You’re from Pittsburgh,. Give me three reasons why the next Olympics should come to the Steel City.: 1. Youʼd have people from every country in the world buying each other cans of Iron City! 2. It would be the all time best tailgating in the history of the Olympics. 3. The rest of the country/world would get to see that Pittsburgh has become a pretty amazing, diverse, and progressive city, and not just a remnant of a great city past
with decrepit steel mills and smoggy skies.