BWW Interviews: Katie McCreary on Musical Theatre, Opera, And Allenberry Playhouse
Allenberry Playhouse has seen its share of stars, but one of the brightest ones of recent seasons has been Katie McCreary, who has just finished a back-to-back run of CHICAGO and SMOKEY JOE'S CAFÉ. In CHICAGO, she dazzled the audience as Matron "Mama" Morton and as the voice of reporter Mary Sunshine; in SMOKEY JOE'S CAFÉ she wowed the crowd with an incredible delivery of "Saved" as well as other numbers. Katie has a unique voice – if it sounds a bit like that microphone headset she's wearing is unnecessary, you're probably right, as her opera background gives this soprano the training not to need one.
Katie's leaving Allenberry at the end of the run for a stint at Olney Playhouse. We caught up with her just after a performance of SMOKEY JOE'S CAFÉ to ask her a few questions about how she's developed that remarkable voice and what she's done with it before bringing it to our area.
BW: What's your background?
KM: I'm originally from DC, and I went to Holton Arms School in Bethesda. I was wishy-washy about what to do later; I thought about majoring in biology in college, but I'd been a violinist since childhood, and I'd had my first voice lesson at 14. When I was working on my college senior thesis project in biology, still taking voice lessons, I failed my project. My college advisor confronted me about my not really wanting to do biology. I stayed, and I took a music major, and then a Master's in Music from Ohio. I hadn't yet thought about theatre. Then I went to University of Missouri, Kansas City, to take the two-year Artists' Certificate program, and to get some opera roles under my belt.
The summer between college and UMKC, I worked with the Ohio Light Opera. The following summer, after my first year at UMKC, I didn't have any gigs, and I wound up taking a job as a singing waitress. I had to learn how to be a belter – it wasn't anything I'd been trained to do. When I went back for my second year at UMKC I did opera but I was still working at the bar, which was a hangout for local actors and directors, and I started getting asked to audition.
My first actual gig was WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE. I hadn't been in a play since high school. My strangest gig has been an all-female staging of 1776. But I booked a gig in San Francisco in 2009 doing opera outreach and singing in DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT. Eventually I went back to DC, then to New York, and then I did an open call for the international tour of AVENUE Q.
You know, I never did finish my program at UMKC.
BW: AVENUE Q? What a fun musical. Did you play Gary Coleman?
KW: I was female swing in the ensemble track. I got to play Katezilla in the dream sequence, I covered the Gary Coleman part among others, and I covered Kate. It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life – learning all of those parts!
BW: You mentioned DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT – have you done any opera work since then?
KM: Yes. At various times I've been in DIDO AND AENEAS, in L'ELISIR D'AMOUR, COSI FAN TUTTE, and L'INCORANAZIONE DI POPPEA.
BW: Musical theatre, opera, or both?
KM: Both if possible – I haven't auditioned for opera in a while. Musical theatre moves more quickly in preparation, and then the show runs longer than an opera does. You prepare forever for an opera, it's far more involved – but then you have fewer shows, maybe fifteen at most. But I enjoy performing in both.
BW: Since the answer's "both," Gilbert and Sullivan should be your niche.
KM: I've done some Gilbert and Sullivan – at Ohio Light Opera I was in PRINCESS IDA and in PIRATES OF PENZANCE in the ensembles. In PIRATES I can sing Mabel, but I don't look like an ingénue. But I'd love to do PIRATES again.
BW: What musicals haven't you done yet that you're aching to do?
KM: Oh, PORGY AND BESS and RAGTIME. They're both very operatic for musical theatre. I'd love to be Sarah in RAGTIME. And I don't care what part I'd play in PORGY AND BESS – I'd play a rock if I had to, just to be with that music.
BW: Who's your inspiration? Any actresses or singers?
KM: Honestly, my family – I come from a musical family where we all play instruments and we all sing. Professional inspirations? Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald. Eartha Kitt. She's just great. No one sounds like that.
BW: You must be looking forward to working at Olney Playhouse – it's a great theater and it's not far from your home.
KM: That's true, and I'll also be getting my Equity card in that production. I'm looking forward to that, too.
BW: What's it like for you, working at Allenberry?
KM: Allenberry's great. Roque [Roque Berlanga, artistic director – MR] is one of the most ambitious people I've ever met and it's great to watch him work. The place has lots of potential. CHICAGO was really, really great.
And Central Pennsylvania is beautiful. I'd decided to go running every day for 60 days, back before I got here. I was at Day 30 when I got here, and I started running on the Appalachian Trail. Now I run on the roads. It's really, really beautiful here. Even the day it rained and I had to hide in a dairy farm's barn to keep dry. The Farmer was really nice. I invited him to see us perform.
Photo Credit: Cindy King