November 13, 2000 12:00 PM

For this year’s Broadway revival of The Music Man, producers wanted a star to play the lead role of charismatic salesman Harold Hill. When Craig Bierko was cast in the part, that’s exactly what they got—they just didn’t know it until the reviews started coming in, praising their 6’3½” musical rookie for his “playful sexual charisma” (USA Today) and “suave and confident” performance (The New York Times). “He now has a following, and the theater had to put up a police barricade outside the stage door!” says the show’s director, Susan Stroman, who handpicked Bierko, 36. “He’s what we all think a leading man should be on Broadway.” Well, maybe not everyone. “When my husband saw Craig’s picture,” reveals Bierko’s onstage love interest, Rebecca Luker, “he said, ‘Honey, you didn’t tell me he was so good-looking!’ ” Growing up in Rye Brook, N.Y., Bierko began performing at the community theater his parents, Rex, 64, and Pat, 62, ran before their 1974 divorce. After graduating from Northwestern University with a speech degree, he headed to L.A., where he spent more than a decade starring in short-lived sitcoms (Madman of the People) and film flops (The Thirteenth Floor) and occasionally landing guest spots on hit shows like Ally McBeal. He fared better with his personal life, dating actresses Charlize Theron and Janeane Garofalo. Now that he’s a professional success, though, Bierko says that the rigors of his Tony-nominated performance (“I haven’t been this tired since I was born,” he claims) leave little room for romance. “I have the same social life I had at 16!” he says, groaning. He has experienced at least one unexpected benefit, however. “There’s enough running in the show that I don’t feel guilty if I can’t get on the treadmill,” says Bierko, who does try to lift weights three times a week. “And I can eat much more than I usually do!”

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