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Showbiz Today Star of Tomorrow

'Music Man' Craig Bierko


NEW YORK (CNN) -- Craig Bierko has received a lot of attention since he tackled the ever-popular role of Harold Hill, con man with a plan, in the latest revival of "The Music Man."

The show so far has enjoyed a hugely successful Broadway run, and Bierko has gotten a great career jolt out of it with a Tony nomination. Another jolt: People magazine recently voted Bierko theater's sexiest star.

After some hits and misses on screens big and small, it appears as if Bierko has finally found a role that critics and audiences feel is as big as his talent.

CNN recently met up with Bierko to discuss his latest role and his past work on film and TV.

CNN: You landed the coveted in "The Music Man." How did someone who's acted primarily in film and TV manage that?

Craig Bierko: I was interested in auditioning for the play. It's as simple as that. I wasn't sitting there saying, "It's gotta be Broadway and it's gotta be now! The timing is right." It wasn't like that at all. The audition came up, so I went.

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    CNN: What was that like?

    Bierko: I went in for a few auditions for Susan Stroman (the director) and finally she called and offered me the part -- but she said there was sort of a final formality I had to get through. I had to meet Meredith Wilson's (the creator of "The Music Man") widow.

    So she came in and watched me do a couple of numbers and she (Stroman) said, if it's right, Meredith will tap her on the right shoulder. Somebody tapped, I suppose.

    It's funny, too. When I was auditioning ... there were plenty of people that I recognized, people I have met over the past few years, and they would say, "So you are going to audition for "The Music Man," and I would say, "Yeah, I'm going to go in." Then they'd say, "You're a little young. Aren't you a little young?" ... When Susan Stroman called me to offer me the part, all I kept thinking was, "I'm a little young. Aren't I a little young?"

    CNN: Do you like Harold Hill?

    Bierko: Yes, I do. ...He's not your average leading man nice guy -- he's a pretty corrupt guy for three quarters of the play. ... This guy is not a hero when it starts out; he's coming to this city to take advantage of people who don't know better.

    CNN: Do you see any similarities between yourself and Harold Hill?

    Bierko: A guy who makes a career out of faking it and getting away with stuff? No, I see no similarities...

    The thing that is weird to me is, I think about a third of the audience every night will have performed that role, at some point in their life. About a third of the them are going to be going, "You know, when I did it, I didn't do what he (Bierko) did. That's not right, what he did." ... I can't tell you the amount of people who just come up to me and start singing "Trouble."

    CNN: Were you a fan of "The Music Man" growing up?

    Bierko: Yes, the first time I saw it my brother Scott played it. ... He was great. I was in the second grade and I thought he was making up the lines as he went.

    CNN: This one of the hardest shows to perform on Broadway, isn't it?

    Bierko: Meredith Wilson did so many brilliant things with this play, and every single song moves the story along and says something about the character. Nothing is extraneous; almost every song is like a new kind of musical invention. I don't think anyone had heard anything like "Trouble" when the show first came out, and it's the closest I am ever going to get to being a rap star. That's why I am really doing this.

    Bierko says the songs of "The Music Man" are "like a new kind of musical invention"  

    CNN: The original production of "The Music Man" debuted in 1957 and went on for something like 1,300 shows. Can you imagine doing something like that?

    Bierko: I can't even conceive of something like that. I don't like to do anything for more than four hours.

    CNN: You've been in the films "The Thirteenth Floor" (1999) "Sour Grapes" (1998) "Til' There was You" (1997) and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1998) Do you have a personal favorite?

    Bierko: I tend to remember the experience rather than the movie. ... I mean, I got to work with Terry Gillian, who has been a hero of mine, in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." That was one of my favorite books growing up and so that was an incredible experience. Working with Larry David on "Sour Grapes" was an amazing experience, (as was) getting to be friends with him.

    CNN: What about TV shows? You were on "Madman of The People" (1994-95), and you also had a production deal with NBC for a while, correct?

    Bierko: I always chose shows that either lasted for 11 seconds or never saw the light of day. I have very strange tastes. The things that I've done on television for the most part got canceled while people were looking through the TV Guide trying to figure out what channel it was on, you know? ... But it was always an amazing learning experience -- if not just in learning how to perform for the camera, then at least I learned how to work with people in the suits. And I got a great education in keeping things in perspective, pulling the reins in on your expectations and putting the focus on your work that day.

    ...But where I am right now -- with "The Music Man" -- is such a wonderful opportunity, such a rare opportunity, that I think there are some things that come along that you can't question. It's almost none of your business; you got to just go with your gut. I know how lucky I am. I feel like I won the lottery.

    RELATED SITE: "The Music Man"

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