Stage and screen icon Julie Andrews once famously said, “Broadway is a tough, tough arena for singing.”
You wouldn’t know that by watching Chilina Kennedy perform. Kennedy, who currently stars as legendary singer/songwriter Carole King in Broadway’s smash hit “Beautiful,” unleashes a captivating performance in this very demanding role. At curtain call the audience is on its feet, and people leave the theater singing, “I Feel the Earth Move,” a sure sign that something special has just occurred.
It’s no enviable task following a Tony award winner, but Kennedy — who replaced Jesse Mueller (best lead actress) — doesn’t miss a beat, literally. She artfully modulates her voice with a richness that resonates throughout the Stephen Sondheim Theater. It requires a special talent to exhibit such vocal control, especially on a Broadway stage, but Kennedy seems very much at ease with her surroundings.
Supported by a wonderful cast, Kennedy poignantly portrays King as a woman scorned by her two-timing songwriting partner and husband, but one who ultimately liberates herself from his cheating ways. King eventually finds her own voice with her masterpiece “Tapestry.” Kennedy, a native of Toronto, is no stranger to Broadway having starred in Jesus Christ Superstar, the classic rock opera by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. Other credits for the talented actress have included roles in the national tour of “Mamma Mia” and “West Side Story.”
BELLA: How much did you know about Carole King before the play?
KENNEDY: Honestly, I didn’t know very much at all and I had no idea that she had written all of those number one hits. Although I was a fan of “Tapestry,” I was surprised to learn just how prolific she was. I had the privilege of meeting her back stage after one of the shows, and she was so generous with her time, telling stories and playing the piano for us.
BELLA: You’re on stage a vast majority of the time. Does that present any special challenges for you?
KENNEDY: I consider it a blessing and think of it as a moving train which you don’t get off until the end. I like that about the play. It makes it very easy to keep your focus. I’ve been in other plays where there is a lot of down time back stage, but this one is action packed from beginning to end.
BELLA: How do you keep the show fresh each night?
KENNEDY: That’s part of the craft, I guess. It’s important to have a different point of focus each night, and listening to the other actors really helps. You can’t recreate a performance, but it’s important to remember that it’s probably the first time the audience has seen the play. That certainly helps to motivate you.
BELLA: How would you compare residing in New York to Toronto?
KENNEDY: Actually, I’m not a big city girl. When I’m not working my home is in a small city near Toronto where I can sit on my deck and relax. New York and Toronto are two vastly different cities. It’s hard to compare them, but I love New York and the people are very warm and vibrant.
BELLA: You and your partner are raising a small child. What’s it like combining acting and parenthood?
KENNEDY: It’s pretty fantastic. I have a wonderful partner who I met in high school, and he is very supportive. He’ll often bring in our son before the shows so we can have dinner or a snack back stage. Acting is really a great profession for a parent because I’m free most of the day in order to be with him and I’m working at night when he’s sleeping.
BELLA: One reviewer called your new album, “What You Find in a Bottle,” pure honesty with a soulful twist and profound lyrics. Did you have a specific theme in mind?
KENNEDY: The album is very personal and tells of some rougher times along with the better moments of the last ten years or so.
BELLA: Who are your musical influences?
KENNEDY: I’ve always admired Joni Mitchell. Her lyrics are so interesting.
BELLA: What’s next in store for you?
KENNEDY: Actors are always thinking about the next step, and New York City is a great place to be because there’s always a reading somewhere. However, I’ll be in “Beautiful” for awhile.