When Kyra Kennedy of Muskogee steps on the stage at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, in February, she will be performing in a groundbreaking event.
Kennedy, a freshman, will play the leading role of Joanne in the musical “Rent.” The Tony-award-winning musical by Jonathan Larson will be performed in repertory for the first time with the opera “La Bohème” by Giacomo Puccini, which inspired the musical.
Before starting her freshman year in August at B-W’s nationally recognized music theater program, Kennedy already had performing experience in Oklahoma in such musicals as “Aida,” “Seussical,” “All Shook Up” and as Belle in “Beauty and the Beast.”
She first learned about Baldwin-Wallace from her voice teacher, Mary McGrew, a graduate of the B-W Conservatory, but what led her to enroll she said was, “the incredible staff and faculty, the amazing success of graduates and the homey feeling that makes me love this place.”
With her heart set on a music theater career, she said she feels the B-W program will help her to make her goal a reality. “Coming to B-W made me realize my potential and the endless ways I can carve, harvest and use my art,” Kennedy said.
Although she doesn’t claim to have been born backstage, her interest in theater has been lifelong.
“Both of my parents were involved in theater before I was born. So when I was little, I would go to rehearsals and watch. I fell more in love with it once I grew up and realized that this could be my career.”
She calls her parents, Tom and Betsy Kennedy of Muskogee, her biggest influence, “not only because they sparked the fire, but because they are so supportive and truly believe in me.”
“It’s so comforting to have that kind of support behind you,” she said. “They taught me to go after what I love and I cannot thank them enough for that. They taught me to have a passion, not a job.”
Kennedy said when she learned that B-W was going to do “Rent” and “La Bohème,” she was elated, intimidated and excited at the same time. She said when she found out she had been cast, “I literally fell on the floor with excitement, disbelief and, yes, a little bit of fear. I was crying on the phone with my mom who, to this day, doesn’t know exactly what I said.”
Kennedy said the experience, so far, has been a whirlwind of eye-opening ideas. In addition to her major role in “Rent,” she also has a small role in “La Bohème.” She said when she is not on stage, she particularly enjoys watching the very similar blocking from one show to the other.
“They are both such intelligent productions and, when put back to back, it is mind-blowing to see where Jonathan Larson got his inspiration for ‘Rent.’”
The two productions have been in rehearsal since August and final rehearsals will resume once the students return from their winter break in January. Kennedy feels she already has grown as an actress.
“The rehearsal process has taught me so much about the circumstances and background of ‘Rent,’ how it was to live with AIDS in the 1990s and what it is like to live with AIDS in general,” she said. “Above all, I have learned so much about what it means to be an artist and what it means to create. I thank God every day for this experience. I absolutely cannot wait until February.”
Victoria Bussert, director of the music theater program, is the stage director for both “La Bohème” and “Rent,” utilizing the talents of music theater and voice performance majors on stage and student instrumentalists in the orchestras. She has directed professional opera productions and her music theater credits include regional, off-Broadway and national tours. She also is on the board of directors for the National Alliance of Music Theatres.
Constantine Kitsopoulos, guest conductor for “La Bohème,” has built an international reputation spanning opera, symphony and musical theatre. He has conducted operas in the United States and China, and was the music director and conductor for a recent Broadway production of “La Bohème” as well as the 2008 Tony-nominated musical, “A Catered Affair.”
“This project will provide a unique opportunity for our undergraduate vocal and instrumental musicians who would ordinarily not be exposed to this repertoire in an undergraduate-only setting,” said Peter Landgren, conservatory director.
“At the same time, we hope to encourage our enthusiastic music theater audiences to experience this beautiful opera and see another side of our conservatory’s talent.”
“Rent” and “La Bohème” will run from Feb. 15 to 27 at Baldwin-Wallace College.
About Baldwin-Wallace College
Baldwin-Wallace College, founded in 1845, was one of the first colleges to admit students without regard to race or gender. An independent, coeducational college of 4,500 students, B-W offers coursework in the liberal arts tradition in more than 50 academic areas. Located in Berea, 12 miles from downtown Cleveland, B-W offers students the cultural, educational and business advantages of a major metropolitan area.