The 6th time's the charm: Laura Kenny plays Eulalie in upcoming 'Music Man' at the 5th Avenue

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Laura Kenny rehearses with cast of The Music Man (photo Jeff Carpenter)

Laura Kenny has spent essentially her entire professional acting career right here in Seattle! She epitomizes the hard-working actor, rarely if ever the leading lady, but taking on key roles in productions and acting the hell out of them. If you look back on reviews, you’ll often see references to how she steals the show or the scene, and is often the funniest person to watch, even among other comic actors.

Laura says, “I’ve worked at every theater in town… Intiman, ACT, Rep, Village, 5th Avenue. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to do that. I’ve made a real living at it. Since 2004, I’ve not been working a day job. Until then I did have a full time job and still did theater.”

In an interview with CultureMob, she describes growing up until high school in Las Vegas and being exposed to “so many performers, your neighbors were working at various hotels. My best friend’s father was the musical director at the Desert Inn. I knew this performing thing was what I wanted to do.

“I never thought ‘I’m going to be a big star or get rich.’ I never dreamt of Broadway. I just wanted to be a working actor, being able to make a living by acting. I just wanted to go from play to play and make a living as an actress.

“I went to UW in Theater. I have a BA in drama with a minor in English. I got a teaching certificate. It was all part of the plan: I could teach drama, make a living in the performing arts.”

That was all well and good as far as acting preparation, but Laura was virtually unprepared when asked to audition for a musical! While she enjoyed singing, she’d never taken voice class and played clarinet growing up. Yet, she found herself auditioning as an understudy for the long-running show, Angry Housewives, at Pioneer Square Theater. Laura tells how she ended up working on that show for four years (unheard of now, at all).

“The only song I knew was Lady is a Tramp and I sang it as fast as I could. I was so proud (and thought) ‘I made it through that audition and never have to do that again.’ I ran out of there. Bill Ontiveros (co-founder of PST) ran out and stopped me and said he wanted me to come to callbacks. I was shocked. They’re gonna expect me to sing!

“I had a friend in Angry Housewives and asked her to help me sing a song in the show and I practiced. When it was time to sing, I was so nervous, I just belted it out. I was made the understudy and was told I’d go on in two weeks, and just get one rehearsal and had to just come and watch the show. Never having been in a musical before, that was pretty nerve-wracking.

“I rehearsed in my living room and watched the show every time for two weeks. I stayed as understudy for two years. I was asked to be a regular and did two more years as a regular in the show.”

Laura has also done some plays multiples of times. At the Seattle Rep, in 2002, she first performed in a new translation of Moliere’s Don Juan by Steven Wadsworth, who directed the play. “All the women played men as well as women. (Later,) we got to travel to the McCarter Theater in Princeton. (Two years later,) Old Globe (in San Diego) wanted it, actors and all, so we went there. I played the tailor, and also Maturine, an aging coquette being seduced by Don Juan. Then two years later, the Shakespeare Theater in Washington, DC wanted it all, again. So I ended up doing it four times!”

Now, she’s on the verge of doing it again. She has performed the same role, Eulalie, the mayor’s wife, five times in the past, and will do it again next week as The Music Man opens at 5th Avenue Theatre.

“I’ve been in Music Man 5 other times,” Laura says. “The very first one I did was in 1995 at the 5th Avenue and played Eulalie for the first time.  Gary Sandy (WKRP in Cincinnati) played the Music Man. At that time, the 5th Avenue had a sister theater called Theater Under the Stars (TUTS) in Houston, Texas. So they brought me down to do it there with John Schneider (Dukes of Hazzard) as the Music Man. And five years later I did it at Austin Musical Theater. And then I played it at Village Theatre in 2005.

“I had the honor of doing the concert version at the Seattle Symphony with Marvin Hamlisch a couple of years ago. I actually got to audition for Marvin Hamlisch. He was fabulous. He treated everyone beautifully. He knew exactly what he wanted. It was a real honor. Bill Berry did the staging for him and is directing this production at the 5th.

“Music Man is one of the great musicals of the American canon and Eulalie is a character you always want to play again because she’s a great character. She is so much fun to play. Every time you do it, you’re doing it with new people, a new director, a new set, different costumes. You have a full sense of the character, but it’s all going to be somewhat different because the elements around you are different.

“Each person I played it with has a different style or take on the character, and if you’re reacting to what your acting partner is giving you, it’s going to be different. For instance, (now) I’m doing Iowa Stubborn, the second song in the show, and I’ve never sung that one before. I think Bill Berry wanted to introduce the mayor and his wife and the two girls early on in the show. Other times they didn’t do that.”

Laura tells a funny story about the show in Austin TX. “In Texas, they do everything bigger and we actually had a Clydesdale horse bring on the Wells Fargo wagon. This huge horse would be out on the loading dock and they’d bring him to the side of the stage, hook him up to the wagon and he’d be led on stage. One day, they brought him out and he proceeded to pee all over the stage. A Clydesdale is very large and has a lot of pee. It was like a lake spreading all over the stage and all the actors were trying to avoid this lake while still singing and doing the show. Luckily, it was at the end of Act 1 and the curtain came down and they were able to clean up the pee. That didn’t mean they rethought using the horse, though.”

“Larry Gatlin from the Gatlin Brothers was the Music Man for that one. He is the nicest most generous man. Now I have the pleasure of doing it with Noah Racey who is playing the Music Man. He’s a quintessential song and dance man and a good actor. He’s got all the elements and is going to charm people and amaze them with his talent. The dances are wonderful. He makes everything look so easy.

“Jeff Steitzer is my husband the mayor. We’re having a great time!”

Continuing to afford to work as an actor was no accident for Laura. She had a plan and stuck to it. “I had a plan all along from the time I started working that at some point I’d have saved enough money to retire and have a little pension and make enough money with my acting. That was a 30 year plan. And I have been able to do that.

“It’s the great love of my life. I always told my mom I’d rather go to rehearsal than a party. I love the creativity in the room and risks you can take in rehearsal to find the best thing to put on the stage. It’s always where I want to be.”

The Music Man plays from February 7 to March 10. Tickets here or call 206-624-1900.

 

 

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