News Column

Orleans musicals bring entrepreneur back to acting

October 17, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 17--When he was growing up on Long Island, John F. Kennedy of Marstons Mills would travel with his theater-loving mother to New York City nearly every day after school for auditions, or small roles in commercials, plays or films. That ended when he was 17 and his family -- including a father who had sung with the Glenn Miller band -- moved full time to their vacation house in Hyannisport. (Yes, near that other John F. Kennedy family summer home; no relation.)

While Kennedy sang briefly with his teen rock band, his aspirations turned to business. He says he channeled his creativity into entrepreneurship and how he ran his companies, and still "sort of got the same charge and thrill" from that as performing. He continued to go to see theater whenever he could, taking his three sons regularly to shows in New York.

Then this summer, more than three decades after last performing on stage, Kennedy saw an audition notice for his favorite musical: "Les Miserables."

The former president of Cape Cod Central Railroad and current general manager of Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority decided to follow his family's longtime advice and take a chance. Armed with a song and a monologue, he tried out.

Peter Earle, show director and artistic director at the Academy of Performing Arts in Orleans, cast Kennedy as part of the large ensemble. Kennedy played eight roles, including one of his favorite parts -- the bishop who sets hero Jean Valjean on a path to a good life through forgiveness and charity.

And, after rehearsing and performing that musical for much of the summer, Kennedy is back for more. He is playing constable Inspector Kemp, the original Victor Frankenstein and other roles in the academy's current regional premiere of the "Young Frankenstein" musical, based on Mel Brooks' 1974 movie spoof.

And Kennedy is not the only later-in-life returnee to the stage. Earle says Kennedy was one of four talented adults who had focused on families and careers and were drawn back by "Les Miserables" after being away for 30 years or more. "It's heartwarming and uplifting to have that going on," Earle says.

Beyond Kennedy himself, there was perhaps no one as thrilled with his return to the stage as his mother. "When I told my mother ... she was absolutely overjoyed," Kennedy says. "We had this wonderful theater bond ... (and) I felt like I was 15 again."

His mother was very ill, though, and too weak to take advantage of the opening-night ticket her son had bought for her. But when that first show was over, Kennedy returned to her bedside and showed her an iPhone video of him performing the bishop's scene.

"She thought it was spectacular," he says. "It was one of the more beautiful moments. I was so glad she got to see it because she always told me I should be doing that."

His mother's health faded through the night, and she died the next day. Her wake was held on the only night Kennedy had off from the show.

But he maintains it wasn't hard to return to performing "Les Miz" because it had meant so much to his mother and because the cast had become such a family. They all said a prayer for his mother before the next performance, and he cherishes friendships he made.

Enough that getting to act with Terrence Brady again in "Young Frankenstein" -- Brady is playing servant Igor -- was part of the draw to return to the academy this fall. The two met at "Les Miz" auditions, and now, Kennedy says, they "are the best of friends."

In so many ways, he says, returning to doing theater "has totally enhanced" his life.

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Provincetown Theater is launching a New Musical Theater Workshop with a week of development and a staged reading for a musical version of "Sybil," based on the 1975 book by Flora Reba Schreiber. The story explores multiple personality disorder, and the musical has a score composed by Alan Cancelino ("The White Rose" and "Bingo City") with book and lyrics by Owen Robertson ("Saving Anne").

The concert reading will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, with director/choreographer Stephen Nachamie and development by Norman Stephens, who was executive producer of the Lifetime network's 2007 "Sybil" movie with Jessica Lange and Tammy Blanchard.

The musical-development program was created by Cancelino, also on the theater's board of directors, to give emerging professional musical-theater writers a chance to workshop and present new works, and bring Broadway talent to Provincetown, according to a press release. Tickets are free but must be reserved at Provincetowntheater.org. Information: 508-487-7487.

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This is the final weekend to catch Samuel Beckett's "Happy Days," an existential tragedy/absurdist comedy starring Holly Erin McCarthy as a woman buried in the ground above her waist with only a few possessions and the company of her nearly silent husband. The show is produced by Theater Under the Stairs at Cotuit Center for the Arts' Black Box Theater, with TUTS co-founder McCarthy also directing, with help from three collaborators.

According to a press release, Beckett uses the story to "continue his relentless search for the meaning of existence, probing the tenuous relationships that bind one person to another," to the universe and to time. "It is absurdism at its height, at its finest, and Beckett is a master," McCarthy says. "It has been a very difficult production to tackle -- definitely a challenge for me as an actor and producer, but that is what makes it so exciting."

Shows are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets: $15, $12 for members; artsonthecape.org or 508-428-0669.

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How has feminism changed? Woods Hole Theater Company is raising the topic by reprising the comedy "I Read About My Death in Vogue Magazine" for the third time -- 12 years after the last production.

The show is written and directed by Lydia Sargent, former company president and a frequent director and actress. "Vogue" is described as "a lively, funny, dramatization of the cultural images of women from the 1950s to today and how they were affected by the rise of feminism and the issues it raised." The play ran for eight months in 1986 at the Newbury Street Theater in Boston, and has been revived in Boston and various colleges.

Sargent was inspired to write the show after talking to a friend, according to a press release. Sargent had noticed a growing number of magazine articles suggesting the women's movement was over and that it was time for women to get back to "normal." She told her friend "I read about my death in Vogue magazine" and had a great title.

Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays through Oct. 26, plus 3 p.m. Oct. 19, at Woods Hole Community Hall, 68 Water St. Tickets: $15, ($10 for the Oct. 19 matinee). Reservations: 508-540-6525.

For more theater news, check out Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll's blog at www.capecodonline.com/stagedoor and follow KathiSDCC on Twitter.

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(c)2013 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)

Visit the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.) at www.capecodonline.com

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