Former Frasier TV star climbs Broadway heights

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David Hyde Pierce, the lean, comic actor who gained fame playing the fastidious psychiatrist Dr. Niles Crane on the hit television series Frasier, has a new unlikely role: Broadway leading man.

The New York-born Pierce has been known to make neurotic tendencies funny and even desirable, but in his new Broadway musical Curtains, he adds some serious singing, dancing, and seduction to his usual comic touch.

Pierce, 47, said he was as surprised as his audiences at his rise on Broadway--even after receiving critical acclaim two years ago for a part in the hit Broadway musical spoof Spamalot.

"If people said to me, even during Spamalot, that someone was going to cast me as the leading man of a Broadway musical, as what happens in Curtains, I would have said, 'You are nuts,"' he told Reuters from his dressing room in a musty Broadway theater an hour before a performance.

Reviews for Curtains, one of the last collaborations of composing team John Kander and Fred Ebb, have been mixed, but they have praised Pierce for his performance as a Boston detective investigating a homicide in the musical.

Kander wrote the music and Ebb wrote the lyrics for Chicago and Cabaret. Ebb died in 2004.

Variety said Pierce was "the most invaluable asset" among a cast of old-hand Broadway actors, and The New York Times said Pierce "steps into full-fledged Broadway stardom with his performance here."

Pierce called the role a dream part, tailored to his talents--"a great match of a role and an actor."

FROM SELLING TIES TO STARDOM

Before landing his first break in a Broadway play, Pierce sold ties one Christmas in the department store Bloomingdale's.

"That closed within two weeks, so I got the best and most upsetting part of Broadway in one fell swoop," he said. "It (Broadway) means everything to me."

But Pierce's international recognition came from his Emmy Award-winning role in Frasier alongside Kelsey Grammer in an 11-year run.

Pierce said he still watches late night reruns of the show while sipping a martini or glass of wine at home as part of a routine to unwind from the highs of each night's Broadway performance.

"I will flip it on just to see what we are doing that night, what my old friends are about," he said. "Even though it is over with, I get to reminisce every night, should I feel the need."

Pierce, who switched from studying piano to acting while at Yale University, said he felt lucky to be accepted into the Broadway world, which does not always take kindly to former television actors in its fold.

"After 11 years of doing a show which I love, to find a whole new area, which is musical theater, and be able to come back and really explore this new world has been great," he said.

But will audiences ever see him in the sort of romantic leading man role as, say, the lead in a Phantom of the Opera-type show?

"I think the chances of anyone casting me as the romantic leading man Phantom-type are pretty slim," he said wryly.

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