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Stephen R. Buntrock: From Enjolras to Teen Angel

About the author:
Musical theater fans have seen Stephen Buntrock sing the hell out of super-serious roles such as Enjolras in Les Miserables an experience he describes in delightful detail below, St. John in Jane Eyre, Barrett in Titanic and Arnaud in the tour of Martin Guerre. On a lighter note, he's played Gaston in Beauty and the Beast and Curly in Oklahoma! on Broadway. But nothing on Buntrock's resume is quite like his scene-stealing comic turn as Teen Angel in the current Broadway revival of Grease. Dressed in white from wig to toe, the unrecognizable actor has a field day with "Beauty School Dropout," delivering the song as if it's the climax of an evening at the Met. Frenchy is floored, and so is the audience. Knowing that Buntrock is sharing the stage at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre with so many musical newbies, asked him to think back on his own Broadway debut—and share his impressions of his current show's leading players.

Feeling like a veteran performer at the tender age of 38 was not what I expected when I arrived at the first day of rehearsals for Grease. But there I was, sitting in the back of the room looking at everyone in the cast as they introduced themselves, and I realized that 14 members of the company would be making their Broadway debuts in Kathleen Marshall's revival. It hit me then how special this production would be. Such raw excitement! They had made it! They would be on Broadway, and I would get to relive the thrill of my own Broadway debut through their eyes. Since that moment, I have often sat back, taking in the joy these young actors exude when they come to work. It really is inspiring. After our gypsy run, I overheard the best compliment: "So which ones were making their debuts? I couldn't tell." What a great way to start!

It's been 10 years since my Broadway debut as Enjolras in the 10th anniversary production of Les Miserables. The first thing that comes to mind was my audition. It was the first time I had ever faced more than three people behind the table. There had to have been at least 15 folks there, including producer Cameron Mackintosh, writers Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil and director John Caird. Seeing them in person was almost overwhelming. But for some unknown reason, it was the best audition of my life... to this day. Out-of-body experience! What the hell was I doing right? Maybe I was too young and green to be spooked.

Fast forward to the incredible thrill of raising the musket over my head in our first run-through of "One Day More." Peter Lockyer as Marius, Ivan Rutherford as Valjean and I couldn't keep from laughing while rehearsing one of the barricade scenes, and we were thinking, "I'm so fired"—then we looked over to see conductor David Caddick laughing just as hard as we were. And then there was our crazy, star-studded opening night… Sting was there!

Another memory that has always stuck in my head: I was on the barricade, which was about to rotate and reveal me, and the prop master ran onstage saying, "You have to place the flag under you like this; the red of the flag signifies his blood, the blood spilled in the revolution." I had seen the show many times and never looked at it that way. Just an awesome moment! Small stuff like that sticks in my mind. But the most important thing about my debut was getting to know Peter. He and his wife have become my dearest friends.

Of course, the most famous of the 14 kids making their Broadway debut in our production of Grease are Max Crumm and Laura Osnes. From the moment I met Max and Laura, I knew the show was in good hands. I never actually watched You're the One That I Want all I usually watch on TV is the History Channel but my wife, Erin Dilly, did, and said, "Oooh, the kids who won are going to be great." We should all be so lucky to carry ourselves with the poise and professionalism these two innately have. They are just really good people and really good performers, and they fit in perfectly with our crazy family at the Brooks Atkinson. We are lucky to have them… period! And they are handling the crazy sudden fame and scrutiny with such grounded ease.

In our production, I have the great joy and pleasure of bringing to life Teen Angel each night. Creating this character was a real feat of artistry, let me tell you! It began with cocky struts around my house in my towel, gut pouching, trying to make my daughter laugh. Seriously, I enter in an enormous ice-cream cone, so all that's left to do is rise to that level of confection. Have fun, make Frenchy swoon, make the audience laugh—blinding them with my Ken doll costume—these are the actions I play. Mostly have fun. There's an energy that's already cooking onstage when I get there. I'm just the powdered sugar on the cake.

Working with Kathleen and Kirsten Wyatt as Frenchy on "Beauty School Dropout" helped things land in just the right place. This cast loves coming to work: It really is as simple as that. I really love my job. Vanilla ice cream rocks!

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