"Lure of the Boards" Pulls Blair Underwood Back to Broadway

After eight years, Blair Underwood returned to Broadway in January, starring as Capt. Richard Davenport in "A Soldier’s Play." The Carnegie Mellon University  School of Drama alumnus accepted the 11-week run on Broadway when he was approached by director Kenny Leon, someone with whom he had always wanted to work. Plus, he said, the idea of going back to the stage was too tempting to resist.

"It feels great to be back," he said during a recent pre-show interview. "I love getting back on the boards."

Blair Underwood, a 1988 Carnegie Mellon University graduate, is starring on Broadway in "A Soldier’s Play" through March 15. The role allows him to continue a lifetime of imagination.

The schedule, though just shy of four months, still proves challenging. Underwood points to an emotional script and eight shows a week as two points he had to consider when returning to stage work. But the material drew his interest. Set on an Army base in a racially divided 1944 Louisiana, the play focuses on a murder that happens on the base and the subsequent hunt for the killer. His character, Davenport, faces discrimination by the captain overseeing the southern base (Jerry O’Connell) and the seeming mistrust of the soldiers stationed there.

"My father is a retired Army colonel of 29 years, so the military was very much a part of my life," he said. "I was drawn to this. It was a big part of my childhood."

Acting, too, was an integral part of his life while growing up. From Mrs. Warren, his first drama teacher in Warren, Michigan, he received encouragement to follow his dreams. Then, "the most profound impact" in his pre-college days came from Marie Maniego in Petersburg, Virginia. She served as his mentor when he was president of his high school’s student government, and she helped him to find his path to professional acting. In college, the woman who fine-tuned his acting skills was Angela D’Ambrosia at Carnegie Mellon.

"I trusted her," he said of the latter. "After I left and started to do films, I still called her or sometimes flew back to go over my characters with her. She saw my work quite a bit."

But it was Maniego - who traveled on two buses with proud family and friends from Virginia - who Underwood was most happy to see at his Broadway run of "A Streetcar Named Desire" in 2012. "I said to her, ’We made it. We made it to Broadway!’ It was a great moment."

Blair Underwood speaks during an CMU alumni event in New York City.

Underwood always felt the call of the industry, he said, and it began through an education that included the arts. It’s something he appreciates as he reflects upon his path to success.

"Life is coming at us so fast now, primarily due to technology, and the arts helps you tap into a creative space inside of you. For me, it provides peace of mind - not just as the artist, but also in giving it to the audience," he said. "I see the arts as being a critical piece of being well-rounded as a human being."

His advice to the next generation: Fall in love with the craft and be ready to make a decision.

"Do you want to become an actor and artist, or do you want to become a star? They can be very conflicting and confusing objectives," he said. "If you want to follow your craft, you’re in the right place at Carnegie Mellon. If you want to be famous, well, that’s in God’s hands."

"A Soldier’s Play" runs through March 15 at the American Airlines Theatre in New York City.

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