LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL FOR FORMER KCVI STUDENT

Life is beautiful for former KCVI student. See full article here: https://goo.gl/xd2sgp

Kennedy is the star of the musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which opened at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre just over a week ago. Playing the role of the Brooklyn-born singer-songwriter is familiar to her now, as she has played King for the past two years on Broadway, and will return to the bright lights of Manhattan for another year there when the Toronto show wraps in September.

For now, though, she’s back in Canada for the first time in a number of years, and when it was announced that she would be returning, she started receiving a number of excited messages from friends.

“There are so many people coming out of the woodwork and from the past, going, ‘Oh, my gosh. I’m going to see you in the show,’ ” she said over the phone from Toronto the morning after her first performance. “It’s fabulous.”

One of the guests she’s excited to see is her former vocal coach, and Queen’s University instructor, Bruce Kelly, with whom she had worked off and on since she was 15 years old.

“He hasn’t seen me perform in a really long time,” said Kennedy, whose father was in the military and spent her high school years at Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute. “It’ll be really nice to see him when he comes.”

Kennedy — who also considers the Kingston School of Dance, and former instructor Len Stempanick, “a huge part of my upbringing” — will be careful, however, not to be distracted by who might be sitting in the audience on a particular night.

“It just takes that much more energy to forget who’s out there, because when it’s a regular crowd, sometimes your mind wanders and if you’re not focused on being in the moment, you can sort of get carried away by what critic might be out there, or whoever, especially if it’s someone you know,” she suggested.

“Sure it’s nerve-racking, especially being back home, but it just makes my job that much more important to try to tune that out along with the voices in my own head that are critical to continue doing my job.”

The musical chronicles the life of King, who many will know from her celebrated Tapestry album, but who, in fact, is considered one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and one of the first female ones to break through into the predominantly male-dominated profession. Sure, she wrote the songs It’s Too Late and You’ve Got a Friend, but she also wrote songs such as Up on the Roof (Drifters), (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (Aretha Franklin), The Loco-Motion (Little Eva) and Will You Love Me Tomorrow (The Shirelles), among many others. King wrote some of those songs with former husband Gerry Goffin.

“To my shame I didn’t realize how much of an inspiration she was to me, because I didn’t realize she’d written all of the songs she’d written until I did the research for the show,” said Kennedy, a singer-songwriter herself.

There’s a “tricky balance” to portraying a real person, she said, and not “being a Saturday Night Live impression of somebody.” Imagine a rainbow of personality, she said, in which King is a yellow and she is a red, “then my version of Carole’s probably going to be an orange.”

“She sang from the gut, and from the heart, and I love that about her music,” Kennedy said. “So I think I have an obligation to serve that part of the storytelling, but, also, it has to come through me, it has to be truthful, so I think with any role that we play, the more neutral we can be as artists, the more we can then allow other things to inhabit us. But I think that’s the key: we’re not putting on a mask, we’re allowing something else to kind of come in and inhabit us. That’s what I try to do every night.”

While her goal when she won the role of King a couple of years ago was simply to have the chance to meet her one day, she has done much more than that. Early on in her Broadway run, King sent Kennedy an email to tell her she was planning on coming to one of her shows, but Kennedy asked her to not tell her in advance to keep her nerves in check. King did show up, in disguise, and then surprised Kennedy backstage afterward, and the pair became friends. They have since performed together on the Today Show, and Kennedy took part in the Kennedy Center celebration when King was made an honouree.

In fact, on the day the Toronto show opened, Kennedy received another email from King wishing her luck.

“She has such enthusiasm,” explained Kennedy.

“When you’re in the room with her, she has such a true, unaffected way of being. She does not put on any sort of artifice, she’s not ‘being’ Carole King. She’s the girl who got a farm in Idaho and she moved to Idaho to get away from that star-crazy L.A., Hollywood world.”

It was another strong female role, Anne Shirley of Green Gables fame, that Kennedy first portrayed as a Grade 10 student on the Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute stage back in the 1990s, and that same role that would later catapult her career.

She remembers going to Prince Edward Island with her dad and best friend to watch Queen’s University grad Tracy Michailidis play the red-haired heroine in the Charlottetown Festival from 1994 to ’96.

“I kind of fell in love with the play all over again and couldn’t wait for my chance to audition,” Kennedy remembered.

She got that chance after she graduated from Sheridan College. She had hoped to just make the chorus, and ended up winning the title role.

“It’s so beautiful because that was my first role ever, in high school, and it was also my first professional equity contract out of school,” said Kennedy. “So it really holds a lot of meaning for me.”

After a couple of years playing Anne, she headed to the United States and joined the touring company of Mamma Mia!

“That was wonderful, too. I was in the ensemble, and I understudied Sophie and Allie to start, then I took over the role of Sophie for a year and a half,” she recalled.

She would also appear in productions at the Shaw festival and in Stratford, where she owns a home (it’s nice to be “able to drive and get a parking spot,” she joked). In fact, it was in the Stratford Festival’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar that she made her Broadway debut as Mary Magdalene, but the show soon fizzled.

With her successes and failures, Kennedy has learned a few things, and she has advice to offer aspiring performers.

“It’s important for people to be themselves, to not to try to be what they think other people want them to be in the business. I went through that for years. I remember going into the room and trying to be what it was they were looking for, and, ultimately, as cheesy as it sounds, you can only ever really be yourself,” she offered with a chuckle.

“The more you can jump into your own skin and be confident about it, and celebrate it, the more people will respond positively to that. They’re going to hire you or they’re not going to hire you, you have no control over that.”

While the Toronto production of Beautiful has just opened, discussions about doing the show in Toronto has been going on for some time, Kennedy said.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” she said.

“The fact that it’s happening and it’s here … that’s really, really exciting.”