During his audition to become the new host of Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues, Joshua Dela Cruz had a good idea what to expect—stand in front of a green screen and imagine the animated characters, like Sidetable Drawer, Mailbox and the loveable dog Blue. What he didn’t know was the original host, Steve Burns, was hiding in the audition room.
“He snuck up on me,” says Dela Cruz. “But as soon as he came out, I automatically felt empowered and like I was supposed to be there.”
With Burns’s stamp of approval, 29-year-old Dela Cruz got the part. In addition to a new host, the 20-episode reboot of the children’s television show that ran from 1996-2006 also has a new name Blue’s Clues & You. The show will have the same premise: the live-action host invites the home audience to join him on Blue’s clue-led adventure with puzzles along the way. No date has been announced for the show’s premiere.
Burns, who is a consulting producer on the new show, has shown Dela Cruz the ropes. “He was essentially my Morpheus, taking me through the Matrix that is Blue’s Clues,” says Dela Cruz. Dela Cruz is the only non-animated element of the show so he has to visualize all digital components. “I’m talking directly into the lens, and I have to kind of fabricate [everything] in my head.” To make it work, Dela Cruz pretends he’s talking to his nephew.
In the studio, Dela Cruz doesn’t hear the dialogue or sound effects that viewers experience. His assistant makes noises and reads lines to give Dela Cruz a sense of timing. The choreography also is complicated. “You can’t just walk anywhere—you might walk through a table,” he says.
Growing up in New Milford, Dela Cruz was a big Blue’s Clues fan. He credits the catchy “Mail Song” with spurring his interest in singing.
During his junior year at New Milford High School, Dela Cruz starred in a musical called The Bagel Factory. Rob McClure, a New Milford native and Tony-nominated actor, wrote and directed the production based on his experiences working for the bagel shop in town. The role earned Dela Cruz a Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Award nomination. He didn’t win, but still received a scholarship to participate in the theater’s Summer Conservancy at Montclair State University. That’s when Dela Cruz started seriously considering acting as a career.
“It was all kind of meant to be and crazy how it happened,” he says. “Had those dots not connected, I probably wouldn’t be here today.” Dela Cruz earned a BFA in musical theater from MSU in 2011 and has been acting since. Until now, the highlight was a four-year stint as an understudy in the original cast of Aladdin on Broadway—including three months when he took over the lead role.
The transition to television has been a challenge, but the experience as a stage performer is a help. “All I had to do,” says Dela Cruz, “was just trust my timing and instincts.”
Few details are available about Blue’s Clues & You except that Blue will be back, as well as a “different” version of the Handy Dandy Notebook. Dela Cruz will still elicit the viewers’ help.
“That’s the biggest part of Blue’s Clues for me—an adult is asking for a kid’s help,” says Dela Cruz. “If we promote this idea of ‘it’s okay to not know the answer,’ I think that would be a really amazing and beautiful thing.”