Stacks of sheet music lie atop a grand piano as Christian Borle plunges into the first few chords of a jazzy melody. He shoots a smile at the handsome man beside him, Leslie Odom Jr., who croons: “No need to beg, steal or borrow — the future is looking bright! Yes, I’m laying eyes on tomorrow — so let’s start tomorrow, tonight!”
Although the two Carnegie Mellon University alumni shot the scene while filming “Smash,” the short-lived NBC series about a fictional creative team in pursuit of a Broadway hit, in reality, Borle and Odom are Broadway royalty.
Borle and Odom helped to guide the hit musicals “Something Rotten” and “Hamilton” respectively, to critical acclaim before taking their final bows in July. The shows will soldier on without them, and the departing stars’ futures — which include two back-to-back Broadway shows for one and a solo music career for the other — look bright, indeed.
Before playing William Shakespeare in the musical comedy “Something Rotten,” the resume of Borle, a 1995 alumnus of CMU’s School of Drama, boasted eight Broadway shows and a Tony Award for Best Actor in the 2012 play “Peter and the Starcatcher.” His work in “Rotten” earned him his second Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical in 2015.
Now, Borle is preparing for his next two projects. First up is the Broadway revival of the musical “Falsettos”, opening this fall, which follows Marvin (Borle) as he navigates the 1980s AIDS crisis in New York City. “Falsettos” has a limited run, and in 2017, Borle will become candy man Willy Wonka in the Broadway premiere of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
His diverse roles are a testament to Borle’s range said Don Wadsworth, head of the School of Drama’s acting option.
“He’s an incredibly strong, imaginative actor who’s also incredibly brave — he’s got real range, and his career shows that,” Wadsworth said.
Borle, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area, spoke to the local NBC affiliate, WPXI-TV, of his fond memories for his college days and his hometown. “I miss it terribly. I just loved growing up there and going to school there,” he said.
Odom, a 2003 School of Drama alumnus, is no stranger to Broadway himself, having made his debut as an ensemble member in “Rent” when he was just 17, before enrolling at CMU. After nearly 15 years of mostly film and television work, he joined the smash Broadway-hit “Hamilton” as protagonist Aaron Burr. With a 2016 Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical and a Grammy Award for Hamilton’s soundtrack — not to mention profiles in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, Odom, as Burr, has shot Alexander Hamilton for the last time.
Rather than leap into another Broadway show, Odom will embark on a solo singing career. He signed a four-record deal with S-Curve Records and released a self-titled jazz album currently boasting a five-star rating on I-Tunes.
"I have a couple of checkpoints where you achieve a childhood dream and you’re forced to wipe the slate clean and dream a bigger a dream," he said, as he plans to spend the foreseeable future devoted to music.
The two alumni may not be singing together again just yet, but given their star power, it may just be a matter of time.