GYPSY OF THE MONTH: Kevin Worley of 'Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella'
As a capper to his Cinderella story, he's now in Cinderella--the first-ever Broadway production of Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella, a musical written 55 years ago for television. The show, starring Laura Osnes in the title role, is currently in previews and slated to open March 3.
In Cinderella Worley can be seen as various residents of the kingdom, both high- and low-born. He's the guy carrying Harriet Harris' parcels when she makes her entrance as the stepmother, and he plays a fruit and vegetable vendor in the "Prince Is Giving a Ball" scene; later, he's the first guest at the ball to practice kindness after Cinderella suggests it as an alternative to ridicule for behavior at court, and when she flees the ball, Worley is the lord who informs the Prince that Cinderella's carriage "flew into the mist." Some acrobatic dancing ensues as the Prince and his attendants chase after Cinderella.
It's been a while since Worley did so much dancing in a show, as he spent much of the last four years on tour with Jersey Boys, a musical without big dance numbers. "Jersey Boys is a phenomenal piece of theater and I'm so glad to have gotten the opportunity to do it, but I was dying to dance again," Worley says. "Every night when we come off of one of [Cinderella's] big numbers and I'm drenched in sweat and heaving because I'm getting back in shape, I'm saying, 'This feels so good.' There's nothing like bustin' your ass on a Broadway stage!"
Worley last did such bustin' during the 2008 holiday season, when he was in the first Broadway company of the very dancey Irving Berlin's White Christmas. He had previously done White Christmas in the Twin Cities (2006), Boston (2005) and San Francisco ('04), as well as its very first production in the summer of 2000 at the St. Louis Muny. Worley was a student at St. Louis' Webster University at the time of that first White Christmas, and he worked at the Muny during summers throughout college. He's also returned to the Muny post-college for featured roles, including Action in 2005's West Side Story, Tulsa in Gypsy and middle brother Daniel in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (both in 2006).
More recently Worley had a lead role in regional theater: Fabrizio in The Light in the Piazza at Vermont's Weston Playhouse in 2008. He actually left a Broadway show--A Chorus Line, no less--to take the part. "It was a feather in my cap, because I had been the ensemble dancer who covers," Worley says. "To go to something completely non-dancing and extremely demanding vocally was huge." Coincidentally, when he was cast in Light in the Piazza he was working in Chorus Line with Michael Berresse, who'd been in its original Broadway cast. (Sarah Uriarte Berry, who'd played Berresse's wife in Piazza, reprised her Broadway role at Weston.) Worley was originally called in to audition for Fabrizio's brother Giuseppe, the part Berresse had played, but at the audition Adam Guettel--who wrote the Piazza score, and whom Worley didn't expect to be there--saw that Worley was more suited for Fabrizio and taught him Fabrizio's songs "Il Mondo Era Vuoto" and "Love to Me" for a callback the next day. "It was like a master class with Adam," Worley says.
Worley has frequently understudied principal roles--Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys, Billy Lawlor in 42nd Street, Patsy during a brief tenure in the Las Vegas Spamalot and Phil Davis in every production of White Christmas he was in (he never went on in that role, though). For Cinderella, he's covering both Jean-Michel and Lord Pinkleton.
He wasn't involved in any of the workshops or readings of Cinderella as it was being developed for its Broadway incarnation, which features a new book by Douglas Carter Beane that gives Cinderella and the Prince substance beyond "pretty" and "charming"; alters the personalities of some secondary characters; and stirs up a proto-Occupy Wall Street movement within the kingdom. "It's not your grandmother's Cinderella," Worley acknowledges. "It's updated, it's fresh. It's still the basic story: the girl who's living with her stepmother and stepsisters and is not treated well and she ends up finding her fairy godmother and falls in love. But [in] filling out that story, this fleshes out that whole world."
Which means more stage time--and hence more dancing--for the townspeople portrayed by the ensemble, under the direction of choreographer Josh Rhodes. "Josh's stuff is fantastic. It's fun to dance, it tells a story, it's got style," says Worley. "I've never choreographed a musical...it's not something that I have actively pursued, but it's certainly not off my radar. Working with somebody like Josh and seeing what he's done inspires me to want to try that."
Worley did some choreography while in college--of high school show choirs. It was show choir where Worley got most of his early training. "That's where I learned to partner, where I learned to tap." He never took dance classes as a child or teen, even rebuffing his mother's suggestion to join his sister at a local studio. "I had no interest; I was into sports," he says. "The arts were so big in the school system where I grew up that I just kind of found my way into it."
Show choir in particular was a big thing for high schools, not just in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Worley lived, but in this whole "belt in the Midwest where it's very intense," Worley says. His choir never lost in regionals and tied for first place at the national competition his senior year. When he was a sophomore, he performed with his show choir (singing a Les Miz medley in the original French) for the national choral directors association at Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.--where years later Worley would be in the cast of Mame starring Christine Baranski and Cinderella's Harriet Harris.
From middle school on, Worley was always in school plays. Yet, he notes, "in all the theater and music I'd done in high school, I never considered it a career option. I was going to be an architect--I decided that in sixth grade." As a high school senior, Worley had the role of Leading Player in Pippin. This was right around the time "I was trying to make my decision where I wanted to go to school," he recalls. "The night before I had to make my decision--a month before I graduated--I turned to my parents at the kitchen table and I said, 'I don't think I want to be an architect. I think I want to try acting.'"
He went to school locally for a year--Cedar Rapids' Coe College, where his mother worked. Then he transferred to Webster University, which has a theater conservatory where he majored in musical theater and began taking dance classes for the first time. He studied ballet and jazz but eschewed tap class. "There's something that almost scared me about tap class, and it still does to a point," Worley says. "I wanted to learn it just by absorbing from other people."
Today Worley is a tap specialist. In addition to White Christmas, he's done such tap-happy shows as Thoroughly Modern Millie (at North Shore Music Theatre in 2005), Singin' in the Rain (one of his many Muny credits) and of course 42nd Street, which he was in on tour and Broadway for over two years. He's also performed tap numbers in Broadway by the Year and All Singin' All Dancin' revues at the Town Hall. "I'm most at home performing when I have tap shoes and a hat and a cane," Worley says. "Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, any of those guys--that's what I love. When I was growing up, my family'd always say that I was born in the wrong era. I consider myself a song-and-dance man, which is kind of a dying art.
"There is so much talent out there in that vein that needs to be seen," he continues. "There needs to be the next great tap musical. I don't know what it is, but we need a new one." Until that happens--and even if it does--Worley has a proposition: "Broadway should never not have 42nd Street."
Worley was cast in the 42nd Street tour in mid-2002, shortly after graduating from college. He gave his notice after about 13 months on the tour, ready to settle in New York City. Fortunately, a slot in the Broadway company opened up before he left the tour, so he was able to move to the city with a job. He stayed in 42nd Street on Broadway for a year, until September 2004.
His second Broadway credit came in 2007, when he replaced Tony Yazbeck as Al in the Chorus Line revival. "To have gone from 42nd Street, a quintessential Broadway musical, to come back to do another iconic dance show is something that I'm very proud of," says Worley, who was billed as Kevin B. Worley early in his career ("I thought it sounded distinguished, but as time went by it started to seem pretentious").
Not long before getting the Chorus Line part, Worley had been cast in the Las Vegas production of Spamalot. He opened that show but left after less than two months to return to NYC for Chorus Line. A year ago, Worley was starting to think about returning to New York again, having spent more than three years on the road with Jersey Boys. He decided he would leave the tour by the end of 2012 regardless; getting cast in Cinderella moved up his departure.
Worley came back to New York a changed man: While on the Jersey Boys tour, he'd fallen in love with castmate Denise Payne, and they were married last May in Tuscany (they'd just missed meeting a few years earlier, when Payne joined the 42nd Street tour two weeks after Worley left it). She left Jersey Boys with him, and they are now living in their newly purchased Inwood apartment.
With softball season looming, Worley has yet another reason to be glad to be in NYC. "I'm really excited to play again this year in the Broadway Show League," he says. The sports buff had good opportunities to indulge one of his other passions--golf--while in Jersey Boys: Board members of some of the theaters where the tour played would invite the cast to play at their clubs, which included such renowned courses as Sawgrass in north Florida, Valhalla outside Louisville, Ky., and Rhode Island's Carnegie Abbey. "We got so spoiled," says Worley, whose handicap's in the 10-11 range.
An athlete since childhood, Worley cops to being "an extremely competitive person." But he says that helps him in his line of work. "It's too hard of a business to not be competitive," he explains. "If you don't have a bit of that edge--you don't want to get better, you don't want to try harder than other people--it's too easy to give up."
Photos of Kevin, from top: his headshot; right, in Irving Berlin's White Christmas with Con O'Shea-Creal and Shannon O'Bryan; as Fabrizio in The Light in the Piazza, with Sarah Uriarte Berry; right, in Jersey Boys with Eric Gutman (left) and Joseph Leo Bwarie; left, tapping to "Educate Your Feet" with Josh Prince in 2007's All Singin' All Dancin'; dancing to "I Love a Piano" in White Christmas, with Melissa WolfKlain at left. [Jersey Boys photo by Joan Marcus]