Drew Lachey sang his way to stardom in the boy band 98 Degrees in the late 1990s. In 2006, he waltzed through the second season of "Dancing With the Stars." For the next two weeks, he will be singing and dancing in Pittsburgh CLO's "Hairspray" at the Benedum Center as the eccentric and animated dance show host Corny Collins.
The musical was adapted from the 1988 John Waters film "Hairspray" in 2002. Set in the 1960s during a time of racial tension and social injustice, teen Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big dreams, longs to dance on The Corny Collins Show.
Corny, who fears losing his job, rejects Tracy from the audition because of her size and a black girl, Little Inez, because of her race.
"Corny wants to be a trendsetter, but he needs a little kick in the pants from Tracy," Mr. Lachey says. "He needs to be shown the way because he feels like he has a lot to lose, but if Tracy can put herself out there and take a risk then he can, too."
This isn't the first Broadway show for the good-humored and down-to-earth Mr. Lachey. A few years back, he played narrator Mark in "Rent" and King Arthur's assistant Patsy in Monty Python's "Spamalot."
Mr. Lachey, 33, always hoped to pursue Broadway and was thrilled when he got to audition for "Rent" in 2005.
"I was very intimidated and scared," he said. "I worked harder than I ever worked in my life doing Broadway. I have the utmost respect for people who do musicals -- eight shows a week, no break [and] you get one shot to do it right. ... It's the pinnacle of performing in my opinion."
Learning the choreography and music in a limited amount of time can be difficult, "but all of those challenges are outweighed by the reward," he says.
His role in "Rent" gave him the confidence he needed to compete in "Dancing With the Stars" and ultimately helped him win the dance competition.
"Coming from a boy band and the pop world, there are certain things you do, and you don't do anything that won't make you look cool," he said. "Broadway was really responsible for me doing well on that show because it helped me let my guard down and open myself up to different roles and different personas. 'Rent' helped me put my personal ego and embarrassment aside."
Mr. Lachey grew up in Cincinnati and joined the Army straight out of high school. After the service, he moved to New York and drove an ambulance for a year. After receiving one fateful page from his brother Nick Lachey in 1995, he became the fourth member of 98 Degrees.
"I was driving an ambulance and my brother paged me. ...He said that one of the guys quit, and they were really close to getting signed. So I quit my job, moved to L.A. [and then] we got signed to Motown Records."
The band toured nationally and internationally and sold more than 10 million records worldwide. Mr. Lachey played a few shows in Pittsburgh while touring, but this is his first extended time here.
"Pittsburgh is a sports-oriented town. ... They love their football, they love their baseball, and I love the fact that the Pirates are in last place and the Reds are in first," joked the proud baseball fan.
"I'm from Cincinnati, and there are a lot of characteristics about Pittsburgh that remind me a lot of home. ... I feel comfortable here. There's a really strong arts and cultural community you don't get in a lot of non-major cities. You can tell just by walking around. There are so many theaters in just this two-block area."
After "Hairspray," Mr. Lachey plans to spend some time with his wife and two children. He will host a live show in Las Vegas for a few weeks and then head to L.A. for meetings.
"It's a never-ending cycle. Whether I'm on stage or on TV, I'm always working. I want to continue to do [Broadway]. There are shows I haven't done that I would love to do. I'm not tired of theater yet, and I hope it's not tired of me."