Christian Borle, right, plays a scene with Adam Chanler-Berat, second… (The O & M Co. / Associated…)
NEW YORK -- The characters played by Christian Borle and other cast members of NBC's"Smash," which wrapped up its first season Monday night, have been struggling to gain a foothold on Broadway.
The real-life Borle? He's a few steps ahead. He's been starring in "Peter and the Starcatcher," an antic play-with-music about Peter Pan, since last month and has earned his second Tony nomination for his performance as the comically deluded pirate villain Black Stache, even as his public following from 'Smash' grows.
For the 38-year-old, the two roles have brought a burst of attention after years of working successfully but somewhat anonymously on Broadway.
"It's shocking coming from the theater and all of a sudden being thrust in TV," said Borle, who plays composer Tom Levitt on "Smash." "You can see the machine of it is almost designed to corrupt and make you lose perspective. And no one wants to lose perspective... in the face of fame."
Borle was having a snack between weekend performances at a diner near the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where his show opened last month.
Like "Bombshell," the fictitious Marilyn Monroe musical Borle's Levitt is trying to stage in "Smash," "Starcatcher" was hardly a shoo-in for Broadway success. The show got its start at the La Jolla Playhouse before moving to off-Broadway's New York Theatre Workshop. Its whimsical, genre-busting story -- there are broad slapstick moments, clever bits of wordplay and a complicated and often earnest mythology about Peter Pan -- was seen as a commercial challenge.
"We live in an era when there's so much money that needs to be invested," Borle said. "It's hard to take a risk on something small and different. And no one really knew how to quantify this show."
Audiences who know Borle as half of the duo (with Debra Messing) that sits in front of a piano and creates musicals might be surprised to see just how physical Borle's performance in "Peter" is -- he leaps, slides and twists across the Brooks Atkinson stage. "There's so much exercise I can pretty much eat whatever I want," he said, as he nonetheless picked sparingly at a salad and a bowl of chili.
Borle said he feels he's come a long way since his first Tony nomination, for the role of Emmett Forrest in the Broadway version of "Legally Blonde."
"When it's your first time you just don't know what's around the next corner -- you don't want to come off as a [arrogant person], but at the same time you want to enjoy it. I think I can balance that a little bit better now," he said.
Pundits have pegged Borle as one of two front-runners in the race for best featured actor, along with Andrew Garfield, who plays Biff Loman in Mike Nichols' revival of "Death of a Salesman."
Borle said that he's yet to see "Salesman" but that he ran into Garfield on a Times Square street just a week ago.
"He was walking by himself and I just walked up and said, 'Hi.' No one seemed to know who he was." Borle laughed. "I think that all might change a little after the release of 'Spider-Man.' "
Borle will continue in "Starcatcher" into the summer, when he'll finish his run, get a week off and then return to the set of "Smash."
He'd like to be in other Broadway productions, but he's not sure he'll be able to return too quickly, with "Smash" shooting through much of the fall and winter.
"Because I was so closely involved [with 'Peter'] from the beginning, everyone was willing to let me come in for a few months," he said. "I'm not sure I can do that with a musical." He paused. "But even when I'm doing TV, I'll never really leave the theater. It's just a question of what and when."