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GYPSY OF THE MONTH: Christian Delcroix of 'South Pacific'

I was the first to use the word slacker in my interview with Christian Delcroix, but he agreed it was "a very good term" to describe his early commitment to a performing career. He didn't pursue summer stock opportunities during college, he went back to his parents' for five months after graduating, and once he moved to New York, he wasn't constantly going to auditions and didn't prepare especially well when he did go. "I wasn't sure if I wanted to put all the work into it that I should," he admits.

Now, Delcroix has gotten his ambition and his career into shipshape. After four years of regional theater roles, he made his Broadway debut this spring in the ensemble of South Pacific. The first-ever Broadway revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic was one of the most coveted jobs for male chorus in a while. "When this came out, it was just all the talk," says Delcroix. "Every guy wanted to be in the show. The excitement was palpable: You're auditioning for South Pacific."

The audition process lasted longer than usual—a month and a half from first dance call to final callback for Delcroix—and included a session where each sailor wannabe had to improvise his own choreography for "Bloody Mary." "They just wanted to see personality; it wasn't anything about technique," Delcroix says. "It was probably the most fun dance call I've ever been to, because everyone was acting like an idiot."

Right before his agent broke the good news to him, Delcroix found out that his best friend and college roommate, Mike Evariste, had been cast. "We're pretty much like brothers," says Delcroix, who missed out on doing South Pacific in 11th grade because he'd fractured his foot playing soccer. At Lincoln Center, however, he has the role of yeoman Herbert Quale, and he's given him a backstory: "He's from Youngstown, Ohio. He's 20 years old…very book smart…never had a father." And unlike his once-slacking portrayer, young Quale is a go-getter. "I'm like the captain's and commander's lackey," Delcroix says. "I fetch things for them, and I'm always with them. Very driven. That's like my shtick in the show."

Delcroix can also be seen doing a handstand at the top of Act 2 in South Pacific. That may not be Herbert Quale, though. In the lighter moments, like those Thanksgiving Follies and "There Is Nothing Like a Dame," Delcroix says, "it's kind of an ongoing joke: I have a twin brother in the show, Harvey Quale. He's the Seabee, Herbert's the officer. They don't like each other. Sometimes I'll walk around going, 'Where's Harvey?!'"

Last year, Delcroix had featured roles in two shows at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse: brother Gideon in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and brother Lon in Meet Me in St. Louis. Regionally, he's also starred as Danny Zuko in Grease and Cain/Japheth in Children of Eden in 2005 at Pittsburgh Musical Theater, the place where he'd gotten most of his pre-college training and performed in shows throughout high school.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Delcroix first studied acting at that city's Civic Light Opera when he was in sixth grade and consequently was cast in its productions of A Christmas Carol and The Wizard of Oz. But his interest in performing and involvement in CLO fell by the wayside within a year or so. The summer after eighth grade, he enrolled in a summer program for kids at Pittsburgh Musical Theater. This time, he stuck around—and throughout high school he spent almost every weekday afternoon and all day on Saturday in classes there. In 10th grade, he had the lead role of Huck Finn in Big River at Pittsburgh Musical Theater. He also performed in its productions of Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, Evita, Fiddler on the Roof and Man of La Mancha. His fellow students in the theater program included Leigh Ann Larkin (June in the Gypsy revival), Paul McGill (Mark in A Chorus Line), Mike Cannon (Al in Chorus Line), Tim Federle (The Little Mermaid), Peter Matthew Smith (Cry-Baby) and Leo Ash Evens (Riff in the new London West Side Story).

Of his own Broadway experience, Delcroix says: "It's been surreal. I consider myself so lucky to be making my debut in this show. The fact that it's the first revival, the fact that it's at Lincoln Center—they're treating it with such respect—is such a treat. Performing on the Tony Awards was amazing." Another highlight was having his parents and girlfriend in the audience on opening night. "I've been very fortunate to have a family that has been so understanding and unbelievably supportive of me," says Delcroix. "My family's been there for me financially, when I've been a bum and a slacker, and they love what I do too."

Those "slacker" periods included the months following his graduation from Florida State University in May 2003. He'd received a degree in musical theater, but went home and didn't do much of anything for the summer and into the fall. "I was still conflicted about what I wanted to do, if I really loved it [theater] enough to do it." There wasn't any other field that enticed him, though. "I was just kind of one of those confused postgraduates," he says. "A lot of that's also attributed to going to a party school."

Well, that had been one of the reasons Delcroix chose FSU. "I wanted to be by the beach, and I wanted a big party school," he says. "I knew I didn't want to go to conservatory, 'cause I love theater but I also like other things. Florida State had a football program, it was a huge campus." Going to school so far from home also forced him to take on responsibility. "I love Pittsburgh and I love my family, but I knew that I had to get out. If I stayed there, or anywhere close where I could come back, I'd be doing myself a great disservice because I relied on them so heavily for support and for this and that."

During his college years, Delcroix didn't audition for summer theater work as most of his classmates did. He went back home and sold shoes at JC Penney. Today, he's glad he eased himself into an actor's life. By taking a break from theater in the summer, "I feel like it didn't burn me out," he says. "I did it for nine months of the year, then I went home and had a good time and got myself reenergized for the next school year."

He got his Equity card on his first post-college show, the March 2004 production of West Side Story at Trinity Rep in Providence, R.I. Before he won the role of Baby John, he'd been living for nearly six months in an awful Queens sublet and working only sporadically as a deliveryman or cater waiter. "It took me a while to realize how to be successful in the city," Delcroix states. "I wasn't very smart about it when I moved up here. A lot of people come here and go to every audition. I probably went on not even an audition a week, and I should have been going on five or six a week." Furthermore, he says, "I didn't know what I was doing" at auditions during the first months in New York. "I didn't have the right music to sing. I was unmotivated, unprepared. It was kind of a godsend that I got the West Side Story job."

His subsequent regional credits include Where's Charley? at Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut, Grease at Kansas City Starlight Theatre and My Fair Lady at Actors Theatre of Louisville and the Cleveland Play House. Last year's production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers played at North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass., Houston's Theatre Under the Stars and Theater of the Stars in Atlanta in addition to Paper Mill. He's also returned to Pittsburgh Musical Theater for Grease, Children of Eden and Miss Saigon.

"Now I feel I know how to work hard at it and how to go and get it, as opposed to the success coming to me," Delcroix says of his change in attitude and work habits over the last five years. These days he makes sure to do things like "taking care of myself, taking care of my voice, going to a vocal coach, taking the occasional dance class, stretching every morning—little things that kind of add up. I present myself better at auditions now; I don't walk in looking like a complete slob. I know what I'm doing, I don't mess up on songs. It's also a confidence thing: Once you have several jobs, it gets easier. You start to feel better about yourself. My main thing now is I tell myself to go in there and it's mine to gain, not lose. They want to cast you, they're not looking for you to fail. That's the biggest lesson I've learned."

He's also finessed his approach to auditions. Earlier, he says, "I wasn't picking any songs that were acting songs. I was trying to concentrate on doing that one big note." He recalls an audition where he sang "The Flower Garden of My Heart" (from Pal Joey)—and "was told to take it out of my book and burn it." Now he knows "to pick a song where you can show some kind of character, as opposed to just belting your brains out," he says.

Another potential obstacle with which Delcroix has had to contend at auditions is his youthful looks. He laughs remembering himself as "the youngest-looking John Proctor ever" in his high school's production of The Crucible. As an adult trying to get cast, he's been told on occasion that he looks too young for the part. It kept him out of Rent, despite about eight callbacks. But earlier this year, he heard the opposite for the first time. Trying out for the upcoming Broadway revival of West Side Story, Delcroix was actually told he looks too old for Baby John, the role for which he'd been invited to audition.

Delcroix is in no rush to leave South Pacific, anyway. Of director Bartlett Sher, he says: "Working with Bart has been amazing. He's kind of a visionary. He's so down to earth and respectful of actors. He was instrumental in coming around to everyone and making sure that everyone had their own personality. He encouraged us to do little stuff, like make our hats different, to differentiate ourselves and create a character."

Rehearsals for South Pacific also included a crash course in military life during World War II. "They gave us a huge research packet, with [papers on] everything from military tactical operations to the language," Delcroix explains. "One of the walls of our large rehearsal room was filled with pictures of Seabees and nurses and officers. They also had a library where you could rent movies. I watched Band of Brothers and The War, the Ken Burns documentary." Veterans of World War II as well as Iraq and the Gulf War came in to speak with the cast. Another guest was Chris Bayes, who teaches clowning at Juilliard. "He came in to teach us bonding with each other," says Delcroix. "The second day of rehearsals, we were thrown into this room and had to play games with each other and really put ourselves out there."

In addition to cultivating an onstage camaraderie with the other sailors, Delcroix realized how important it is for the whole cast to band together. "We have to find a way every night to make it seem like we live in that world, to make those relationships seem true," he says. "You have to find that connection when you're working with a huge ensemble like this. Principals and ensemble have to be connected—from Kelli [O'Hara] down It looks like we're all just having fun. We are having a great time and goofing around, but we're very connected."

Delcroix plays on South Pacific's team in the Broadway Softball League. He had played baseball on his school teams until ninth grade, when he quit to devote all his extracurricular time to theater classes. And, he adds, "I developed an irrational fear of my teeth getting knocked out." Which is why the former second baseman is now an outfielder.

He also loves golfing, though he doesn't get to do it much in NYC. Crossword puzzles are another favorite pastime. As for the afterschool pastime that became his profession, Delcroix says, "I don't really know how this happened." His brother and sister were briefly in a theater group with him when they were children, and his father used to sing in church choir, but that's the extent of his family history as performers. Then again, he is distantly related to the 19th-century French painter Eugène Delacroix of "Liberty Leading the People" fame. "Maybe that's where I got the creative side," Christian says.

Photos of Christian, from top: as sailor Quale, in foreground, with Matt Caplan in South Pacific; in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, with Michelle Dawson and Eric Sciotto (right); in My Fair Lady, bottom left, with (from top left) J. Bernard Calloway, Rachael Warren, William Thomas Evans and Nick Locilento; with best friend and castmate Mike Evariste offstage at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. [Photo credits: Joan Marcus; Bruce Bennett; Roger Mastroianni; courtesy of Christian Delcroix]

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