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Christian Borle makes his New York directorial debut with the comedy Popcorn Falls
Christian Borle's comic invention and crackerjack timing have enlivened many a Broadway show over the past two decades. He took home his first Tony Award for his swaggeringly funny turn as Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher and his second as a preening, rock star-style Shakespeare in Something Rotten!. In between, he made his name on TV as a quippy composer in Smash. Considering his penchant for cracking audiences up, it's no wonder he's making his New York directorial debut with the comedy Popcorn Falls. Written by James Hindman (who costarred with Borle in Mary Poppins on Broadway), the two-hander chronicles the craziness that ensues as a bankrupt small town attempts to put on a show in a week in order to win grant money. When it premiered last year at Michigan's Riverbank Theatre, Borle was just the dramaturg, but he's been promoted to director for the Off-Broadway run at the Davenport Theatre. He gives us the backstage scoop on this backstage comedy.
Michael Musto: So, does a two-time Tony winner wake up and say, "I want three!" or, "I should give one of these to Danny Burstein"?
Christian Borle: Ha ha! He doesn't have one yet? That's a crime. It's a crime that he's going to have to suffer without my help. You never want less Tonys, I will say. I'm human.
Musto: Adam Heller and Tom Souhrada play a lot of characters in Popcorn Falls. Do you think it's easier to direct two people as multiple characters, or many actors as many characters?
Borle: That is something I'd like to find out. It was certainly appealing just to have to wrangle two people to get my feet wet. We're all old friends, so I knew the dynamic would be happy, which is half the battle. I recently saw the dress rehearsal of The Prom, and with 20-plus people on stage and all those personalities, I don't know how Casey [Nicholaw, the director, who worked with Borle on Spamalot and Something Rotten!] does it.
Musto: You'd no doubt be amazing in the Popcorn Falls parts yourself. Did you give the performers line readings?
Borle: As an actor, I've never minded a line reading. So twice I allowed myself to do that. Again, I hate to bring it back to Casey, but he gave me a good trick. You don't have to give line readings. You say, "Can we just take it from 'and enter'?" And say 'and enter' the way you want them to say the line.
Musto: Along those same lines, so to speak, were there ever moments you wished you could dump the directing and jump up on stage to be in the show?
Borle: It wasn't a terrible challenge to set aside my acting cap. A director who has an actor's perspective can bring a little insight. They were doing such an amazing job, I never fantasized about taking over.
Musto: Popcorn Falls is lighthearted stuff, but it touches on theatre's ability to bring out egotism, ineptitude and, sometimes, ingenuity. What do you feel it has to say about the art form?
Borle: It's fascinating talking about this play to people. It's based on a true story, and a lot of people have had this experience or know of towns where theatre has revitalized entire communities. On a metaphorical level, it did that for me starting at a very early age. It was a home for me. To see it work on a municipal level as well [in this play] is fun.
Musto: You mean there was an actual town where the waterfall went dry?
Borle: I think Jim did base that on a real town.
Musto: Bankruptcy, waterfalls… is this play a homage to Anyone Can Whistle, the 1964 Arthur Laurents-Stephen Sondheim musical in which a broke town tries to save itself by exploiting the alleged miracle of water springing from a rock?
Borle: I never saw it, I've just heard it. I wish I could say it was. Let's just say it was. It'll make me sound well-read.
Musto: The promotional materials describe the play as "Waiting for Guffman meets Greater Tuna." Do you agree?
Borle: I'd buy that. It certainly has the heart of Guffman and naturally any two-hander is going to be compared to Greater Tuna. Popcorn Falls starts out as a farce and then you end up watching these lovely scenes play out with these two actors in unexpected ways. That's what drew me in, not having it be manic for 75 minutes straight.
Musto: The parts that are manic are paced to the point of near breathlessness. How did you get the actors to do that?
Borle: I told them to keep going faster. [Laughs] We'd do little experiments where I'd say, "Don't act; literally speed through it. Let's do it like a radio play." Then they'd do it too fast. So I'd say, "It's too fast, but keep some of that energy," which they have. The rest is logistics of how to get them through doors and make transformations. That came pretty easily. There are only so many entrances we could use.
Musto: Speaking of reentrances, you reunited with your ex-wife Sutton Foster for two TV projects: Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life and Younger. Is there any unfinished business or tension in the air when you work together these days?
Borle: No. It was daffy and hilarious. We were obsessed with Gilmore Girls when we were together. It was the first thing we ever binge-watched -- with the DVD collection. She was sweet enough to get me that job. She was friends with the creators, who also did her show Bunheads. She told them, "Christian and I were obsessed with this show." They said, "If there's anything we can find for you, that would be great." They plugged us into this ridiculous musical in the show. We spent three glorious days in L.A. just making each other cackle again.
Musto: My exes don't get me jobs.
Borle: I highly recommend it! For Younger, we flirted in Bryant Park and the scene ended with us kissing on a bench. We just looked at each other and laughed.
TDF MEMBERS: At press time, discount tickets were available for Popcorn Falls. Go here to browse our current offers.
Michael Musto is a weekly columnist for NewNowNext.com and was one of the rotating cohosts of Theater Talk. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeymusto. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top image: Christian Borle.