Christopher J. Hanke
Currently: Making his Broadway debut as In My Life 's J.T., a singer/songwriter with Tourette Syndrome, ADD, OCD and more.
Hometown: Hot Springs, Arkansas. Hanke, the first of five children, split his childhood between there and Dallas, Texas. "My cousins and I did stupid skits, pretending we were people on Saturday Night Live ," the actor recalls. "So I was always prone to performing, but I was kind of a nerd in school. I was an outcast, the smarty-pants. I thought I wanted to be a doctor."
I Want To Make Magic: Hanke got accepted to medical school, but decided to defer his admission and try acting in the Big Apple. He sold the new car his father had bought him for college graduation, took the cash and headed eastward. Soon he was living with a Rockette friend in Queens and waiting tables at midtown eatery Houston's. A few weeks after his move Hanke landed the role of Nick Piazza in tour of a Fame .
You Walk Through Me: Hanke went from the Fame tour to the play Naughty Night off-Broadway to a mounting of Baby in Connecticut. Then he got called in to audition for the role of Ethan Girard in the first national tour of The Full Monty . "The audition was at 72nd Street Studios, one of the older audition places," Hanke recalls.
"They asked me to do a scene in which Ethan tries to run up a wall. I ran through it. Literally. My foot goes through the wall—I have sheet rock up to my waste. I turn back to the table, with a funny smile on my face, and continue playing the scene with my foot in the wall. That is why I got that job. They were like, ‘You have to give it to that kid—he ran through the wall!'" Thankfully none of his subsequent work (including Fame on 42nd Street off-Broadway, Big River on tour and The Matchmaker at DC's Ford's Theatre) has involved similar destruction of solid materials. Life Turns On A Dime: Hanke had been considered for a workshop of Joe Brooks' In My Life , but did not get the gig. He was back to waiting tables at Houston's and had just asked his parents to borrow $3,000 (prompting his father to say: "OK, it's time to go to medical school…") when the audition for the Broadway production came up. "I didn't get the breakdown and I didn't know the guy had Tourette Syndrome. It wasn't obvious from the sides. I knew he was a singer/songwriter living in the East Village so I thought he was sexy, confident. I did two lines and the assistant director said: ‘Stop! Do you know this guy has Tourettes?' And I went, ‘Umm, no, I, I, I didn't know that. I'm sorry...' Within one second I did a different thing." Clearly it worked.
Fuck, Suck, Duck: Hanke did not rely on watching episodes of Anne Heche on Ally McBeal to learn about Tourette Syndrome, he did a lot of serious reading. "I'm really putting myself out there as an actor with this," Hanke
states. "Not only am I the lead on a Broadway show, which is already putting yourself on the line, but I'm playing a character that people have a certain perception of. I really had to make sure I did my homework."
Not My Mother's Son: Hanke loves working with co-star Jessica Boevers, who he frequently refers to as "great." But it's another companion he could not live without during this process, Diet Coke. "I'm addicted," he admits. "My mother is all into holistic healing (she doesn't even approve of us going to the doctor) and she says the aspartame is killing me. I tried to kick the habit about a year ago, but regular Coke is too sweet for me. I tried to do half Coke and half seltzer water—I was literally at the store with three bottles of Coke and three bottles of seltzer water—but it made me fat, so that didn't work. Now, if the aspartame kills me, I'll die working."
All About The Show: In My Life has been much buzzed about within the industry as a Broadway oddity, but Hanke tries to block that sort of stuff out while he is working. "People in the general paying audience love the show. They think it is hilarious, they cry, they think the design is beautiful, they think it is wacky and bizarre. That is what we have going for us. And it is not like Joe wrote this show days ago, had 10 million dollars in his pocket and said, 'I'm going to the Music Box.' He has really been developing it for years. It is unique, original and comes from Joe's brain," Hanke gushes.
A Good Life : While it has been difficult adjusting to all the changes In My Life has gone through, Hanke is still ecstatic to be involved in the project. "Everyone here is wonderful," he says. "Four years ago I was handing out Full Monty flyers at Broadway on Broadway, but this year I was performing there. I could have been one of the In My Life CD guys—if I wasn't in this show, I probably would be—but instead I'm here. It's amazing."
See Christopher J. Hanke in In My Life at the Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street.
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