Three-time Emmy winner Christian Le Blanc previews his Off-Broadway debut in ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ at the Theatre at St. Clements

Known to fans everywhere for his TV roles as a series regular on In the Heat of the Night, As the World Turns, and more than 30 years playing the lawyer Michael Baldwin on The Young and the Restless, twelve-time daytime Emmy nominee and three-time winner Christian Le Blanc has also been a presence on the national stage, with past theater credits that include Ladies In Retirement with the legendary Julie Harris and Eileen Brennan in LA, a series of Joe Pintauro’s one acts directed by Charles Nelson Reilly, Richard Kondolian’s Fairy Garden, and several appearances at The Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in New Orleans.

Christian Le Blanc celebrating 30 Years on The Young and the Restless. Photo by Howard Wise/JPI Studios.

This month, Le Blanc, who is also an accomplished fine artist, is about to make his Off-Broadway debut in the role of Big Daddy in the Ruth Stage production of Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Though the 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning American classic has had six productions on Broadway, in addition to the 1958 film adaptation starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, The Tennessee Williams’ Estate has never before given the rights to an Off-Broadway production. But Ruth Stage and an all-star cast are now bringing a new and modern perspective on the work to the Theatre at St. Clements, where the late priest Sidney Lanier – a relative of Thomas Lanier Williams (aka Tennessee), who was a member of its Board of Directors – created the theater space at The Church at St. Clements, after convincing the congregation to permit this unorthodox use of its sanctuary.

Et in Arcadia Ego. Art by Christian Le Blanc.

Christian spoke to me on his free day during a busy week of rehearsals to give us a preview of the show and his thoughts on the playwright, his character, and his career in the theater.

What is so compelling about the work of Tennessee Williams?

Christian: I lived in New Orleans, and went to Tulane University there, and he’s our Shakespeare – Tennessee Williams was the one!  I did small parts in The Tennessee Williams Literary Festival and there’s an event with the festival’s founder Janet Daley Duval, the annual Stanley and Stella shouting contest. She stands on a balcony in a slip portraying Stella and people pay to yell “Stella” up at her. I joined her on the balcony and Jackson Square was packed! Everyone in the city is so captivated by Williams, it’s become part of the idiom of New Orleans. He’s the Shakespeare of the South.

Photo by Lesley Bohm.

How did you become involved in the current Off-Broadway production?

I auditioned. I have a friend who’s a manager, and it fell into my lap. They called me and asked me to do it, and I thought they’d want me for Brick, but they said, no, Big Daddy! All of a sudden I had one of those moments; it’s so amazing navigating age. I went silver during the pandemic and then I got it that being an artist is about change, it’s not about holding on but letting go of the past, and Big Daddy is THE part! It’s the pivotal role in the play and they gave me a huge speech to do on Zoom. I worked so hard on it, and then the Broadway producer Joe Rosario, who’s directing the production, called me and gave me so many compliments and was so supportive – it was my dream.

What is the greatest appeal of being a part of the NYC theater scene?

This is where I started, and it brings back the memories of being a busboy at Leona Helmsley’s, then getting my first Emmy at Radio City Music Hall and walking by the Helmsley, looking in and waving to the staff, and going on to the Emmy party! New York is where you go. My little sister Michelle, who’s flying out for the show, said, “This is big!” It’s the pulse of things, it’s where the world comes to be an artist. It’s the most magical place; if you’re a success here, you really are at the center and you’ve checked all the boxes, you raised the stakes. That’s the perspective. People will do anything to get here and don’t take it for granted. It’s exciting and terrifying, there’s fear and passion and horror and love. It’s the price you pay for being an actor; we all see the cost – and part of that is nerves!

Billboard in Times Square featuring Christian Le Blanc. Photo courtesy of the artist.

What do you enjoy most about stage versus screen acting?

The connection with the audience. It’s like sex – it’s so intimate, you know when you have them and you know when you lost them. It’s the power that the stage has, and it’s knowing how to use the stage, so everybody in the theater understands the emotion, even if they’re in the last row. I got that when I saw Cherry Jones in Doubt, right here in New York. It’s like the quest for the Holy Grail; when you have that talent, it’s a sin to waste it, so go for it and do it.

What’s the most challenging?

In all of it, stage and screen, good acting is good acting and bad acting is bad acting. It’s like being in a master class. You go there to mess up, and that’s how you get better. You have to push boundaries and get out of your comfort zone and make mistakes. I know my medium, but every show is like starting over again, so you walk humbly. The biggest thing is that you have to be absolutely honest and naked, you have to behave privately in public, as if nobody’s watching. It’s so intangible sometimes, but people are moved. That’s the peak of what we do – when the audience is completely with you, it’s the highest high for both of you.

Do you see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as a classic period-piece or do you find its themes and characters timely and relevant today?

Oh, that’s interesting. I think seeing it as a classic is the opposite of what the artist wanted us to see. Williams wrote about the blood and guts of the characters, so the people in the story exist today, they’re alive in the play. It’s real life, it’s not removed. If you don’t find that person, you do the writer a disservice. He has the skill to bring the character to life and to transcend time.

Christian Le Blanc as Big Daddy, Photo by Lesley Bohm.

Is it more difficult or more rewarding to play an unlikable character?

It’s intimidating to play a bad guy, but you play them as human beings. People do bad things for good reasons and good things for bad reasons. Characters are complex and there’s no limit to what you can do. Tennessee Williams gave us well-written characters and lets us do it. Just get out of his way, the same as with Shakespeare; it’s the human condition.

What, if anything, is relatable for you in the character of Big Daddy?

The whole concept for this production is they’re doing modern casting, so there’s no padding for me to play Big Daddy, I don’t have to be fat. They’re liberating me from the performances of Burl Ives and the other actors who’ve played the role before. When I saw the movie as a kid, all I knew was that it’s bad to be a drunk. But now I know it was code, compromises had to be made in the ‘50s, he had to internalize the private pain of his sexuality. Williams couldn’t write about that part of his life, so now we are taking the those limits away. He’s in his sixties and he’s still sexually relevant. We can ask who Big Mama is to him. I can find that part of Big Daddy in my performance.

What do you hope the audience takes away from the production?

Oooohhh, that’s a good one! I hope they come out saying that they couldn’t think of a better way to have spent the day or night. And I hope it provokes a response, rings their doorbell, and opens a portal into themselves. I would like everyone to walk away thinking they know that person and could BE that person, and, through that, learn more about themselves as human beings.

Christian Le Blanc. Photo courtesy of the artist.

It was a pleasure to talk to you, Christian! Thank you so much for a fabulous conversation and for giving our readers your insights into the show. I look forward to seeing it, as I’m sure all your fans do.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof plays July 15-August 14, 2022, at Ruth Stage, performing at the Theatre at St. Clements, 423 West 46th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $39-125, plus fees), go online. Opening night tickets (7/24 @ 5 pm) include open bar before, during, and after the performance and a 30-minute talk back with the cast after the show. Everyone must wear a mask at all times when inside the building.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here