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Astoria man dances on Broadway

Christian, 34, grew up in bucolic Lexington, Ky., and was a teenager during the 1980s, a far cry from the glitzier Baltimore, circa 1962, depicted in "Hairspray." But despite their many differences, Christian and the character of Tracy Turnblad share a very fundamental similarity: A history of having to buck the odds and overcome doubters in order to make it to the big stage. "You can't stop an avalanche as it races down the hill. You can try to stop the seasons, girl, but cha know you never will," Turnblad sings to an always pumped-up audience, in the show's ebullient finale. "You can try to stop my dancin' feet, but I just cannot stand still." It is a sentiment that Christian - who is a member of the chorus in "Hairspray" - understands very well. Though he has enjoyed rather remarkable success since moving to Queens from Kentucky on a whim a decade ago, Christian, like virtually all performers, had to knock down some doors in his early years.For Christian, the most significant roadblock came early in his career, when he was just 15 and a middle school student in Lexington. He attended a performance of "West Side Story" at the city's most prestigious high school for aspiring actors, the Youth Performing Arts School. If he wasn't hooked on a career on stage before the show, he sure was after, he said. "I knew right away that was how I wanted to spend my life," said Christian. "I just had to figure out what steps to take." Steps, indeed.When the Youth Performing Arts School held open tryouts in Lexington, Christian decided to audition as a singer. He had grown up as a member of his church's choir and singing was his first introduction to public performance.Never short on self-confidence, the young Christian assumed that his rendition of "Amazing Grace" would earn him a spot at the hollowed school the following fall. But the school's representative said that while he liked Christian's style, he was concerned that the young singer's voice was still changing and not yet fully developed. He told the crestfallen teen to consider auditioning again in a year or two. On his way out of the auditorium, a still disappointed Christian noticed a sign on the bulletin board alerting dancers that auditions for the performing arts school would be held the following day. A light went off in Christian's head."I had never really danced before, and certainly didn't think I would be auditioning as a dancer, but I just knew that I could do it," he said. "There was just no way that I was going to give up the chance to attend that school the following year."Christian was just one of three or four males in a roomful of about 60 would-be dancers who showed up for the audition that morning. "The number of people didn't make me nervous because I knew that I was only competing against the boys," he said. His instincts were right on, as were his dance moves. Though he had never had to negotiate a ballet barre before, Christian just "followed along what was shown to me," and impressed the judges sufficiently to get accepted into the school."Getting into the school as a dancer took me a completely different direction than I expected, but I don't regret it for a second," he said. "I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but when you are that age, you are a little fearless."Christian soon made his first foray into the New York dance scene, landing a recurring summer internship with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. It was a spot that he held on to for six years, including his first three years in college, at Point Park College in Pittsburgh. During his college years, he also performed as a member of the ensemble in a summer program at Disney World in Florida.In 1995, Christian and some longtime friends and fellow performers from the Midwest decided to pile into a car and try their luck in New York. Just two weeks after moving to the city, Christian landed a role in the ensemble of the "Radio City Music Hall Easter Show." From there, he performed in a production of "Can-Can" at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut and in the "Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular."His first non-ensemble part was playing Enoch Snow Jr. in a tour of "Carousel." He also played in the long-running musical "Chicago," both on Broadway and on tour; in "Lion King," in the ensemble and as Simba, and as Mereb in the tour of "Aida." The roles all required Christian to use his skills both as a dancer and a singer. "Sometimes you have to take a road less traveled to achieve what you want," he said. "I don't think that the dancing was a coincidence. In the end I think that was road I was supposed to take.""Hairspray" is playing at the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St.; Monday to Saturday, at 8 p.m., with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2 p.m. For tickets, visit the theater box office or call 212-239-6200.

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