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Chad Kimball: Actor and Entrepreneur

Chad/> Kimball grew up in Seattle/>, Washington/> (in the Pacific Northwest/>) which he says was a great theater town. When asked how he got his start performing, Chad/>/> laughed and replied, "I was talking to somebody the other day, it was Seth Rudetsky… He said 'when did you learn to sing? He said please don't say in Church. That's where I learned to sing.Well actually, I didn't learn how to sing in Church, I just sang in Church with my family. My family was quite musical. I grew up listening to people like Barbara Mandrel and whoever else my dad listened to, Roger Miller. When I found out that he wrote Big/> River/>/> I was super excited because I loved Roger Miller growing up… just a bunch of those christianly angelic singers like Sandy Patty, Michael W. Smith, you know all those people. That's where I got my influence."

Chad/>/> then moved to performing because to get over shyness as a kid. "They were filming this TV pilot called Adventures of St. Clair Island in Seattle/>/>. It was really kind of low budget. It wasn't like Hollywood/>; they were filming in Seattle/>/> and trying to shop around. My brother was into summer stock Seattle/>/>'s children theatre and I was about seven, I think, and they were having auditions. Our elementary school had gotten the 'word' and my brother was going to go. I asked if I could go too and my mom said sure. I went - and ended up getting it over him and two thousand kids, it was ridiculous! That was my first thing and then when I was about twelve I was in Our Town. I was Joe the paperboy and I was fantastic. I was amazing. I brought the house down with three lines. There are no small roles, only small actors. (he laughs) So that's how I started, and from there on I knew that was what I wanted to do. There was really no question for me"

Chad/>/>'s vocal training began in High School.  "We had a great drama department and a great on site voice teacher actually. I started taking lessons with her and doing some community theatre. Then when I was seventeen, I did some professional theatre gigs locally and had already made up my mind that that's what I really wanted to do and my parents really never questioned it."

Chad/>/> applied and was accepted to the Boston Conservatory – a college with no true "acting program" but instead a musical theater program. "There is music, dance, and musical theatre. The acting program is pretty intense for musical theatre students because there is kind of this riff between musical theatre and acting and it's great… it's really healthy. Some people end up leaving because they realize that they don't want to do musical theatre, they just want to act. But, for those that stay, they get a pretty great education in just straight acting." Chad/>/> primarily performed in dramatic plays while in college including roles in Equus, Beowulf, and others by Shakespeare, and Chekhov. "I had a great time in college, and I did some really fantastic stuff. After that, I did Sweeny Todd and I played Tobias. Love that role! We also did the first off Broadway or outside of New York/>/> premiere of Side Show (after it had closed on Broadway) and I played Buddy."

While most graduating seniors are worried about where they will go, and what they
will do, Chad/>/> found himself landing an acting gig. "Yeah, It was ridiculous! I mean it's funny because I do these sessions for kids where I come and sing and I tell my story and everything. The person that runs them tells them that my story doesn't happen. I was super blessed. Nine days before graduation (after my showcase) some of us got agents (some got calls from casting directors) and I happened to get a call from Dave Clemmons who asked me to come in for Civil War on Broadway. I ended up getting called back, and I remember going to Central Park/> and going over my sides. I was asked to sing 'I'll Never Pass This Way Again' which is kind of in a glen…like a river. I figured I would go practice in Central Park/> by that little lake. (laughs) I was getting stung by mosquitoes and I was thinking 'this is not a good idea.' Anyway…to make a long story short I went back and got a swing role. I was a swing and it then it closed about three weeks later."

When asked if he sensed the pending closure when he joined the cast, Chad/>/> noted, "You know what…it's funny. I think that I have been prepared in certain ways throughout my experience here in New York/>/> to kind of gage these things. You really just never know. I mean they were up for the Tony and we had a party and it was literally right after that, or a couple days after the day that  they announced the closing. Apparently, a lot of people didn't know. We had kind of heard this and that and that it may happen but…I guess you want to believe that it is not going to happen, you know?"

After The Civil War, he took on the role of Anthony opposite Norm Lewis in Sweeney Todd down in Washington/>, D.C./>/> "I prefer Tobias…I think it is a juicer role. You know …more fun. I did that with Norm and he is a hoot. He's a great guy."

Then Chad/>/> returned to NYC and appeared off-Broadway in Godspell. "We were all young and our like leader was Capathia Jenkins – who had been around and is amazing. We did a lot of improv and the show was completely re-imagined. We kept very little of the original book. It was a lot of fun and we had a great time. Being able to be so creative and get that vibe where it's not usually the case… It was really kind of a dream come true to be able to have such success with it and the recording my first cast album. Stephen Schwartz was wonderful."

His "breakout" role was different than most performers. It was a role that garnered him Entertainment Weekly's "It Boy" – Milky White, the cow in the Stephen Sondheim revival of Into The Woods.

"I went in and knew there wasn't a role open but I wanted so badly to be in a Steven Sondheim show where I knew he would be involved and James Lapine. They had already cast the role of Jack, so I was originally cast as Jack's standby and also as a standby for Rapunzel's prince. So, we went to LA and Kate Reinders, who was originally the cow, was having a lot of trouble. It was just a really difficult costume to maneuver. I thought it was pretty cool that they made the cow a person instead of a piece of wood like in the previous version. We didn't really have an idea what it was going to look like - the mask or anything until we hit LA. It was just so awkward and she (Kate) was just trying to walk and she's just a girl, a little tiny thing. I remember her asking if I would talk to James Lapine with her. I wasn't even an understudy for it and I wasn't even thinking that I wanted to be part of it at all. She spoke to James and kind of broke down in tears and I didn't know how James was going to take that …how well he does with tears. He turned to me and said can you try it. I was sitting on the sidelines for two months and I was like 'yeah I will do anything. Put me in the light booth …I will do that.' So I did it and it was just so much fun. I just had so much fun doing it."

When asked why he thinks he got so much attention for the role, Chad/>/> replied, "Well it was so different and I think that it was so cute. I mean it was just really cute. The thing that they hit upon was this idea that it gave more weight (I don't mean to sound too dramatic) but I think it gave more weight to Jack's story because if it is wooden…if it is just a wooden piece of scenery you don't care as much about it, where he is going and what is happening to him. It elevated Jack and gave it just a little more depth and a little more light heartedness. I mean when they cow starts dancing with everybody you remember that you are in theatre and it's all good."

"My dad would say my head was getting too big because I got so much press. People were like who's your publicist? And I was like…I don't have one. I'm just a cow. And I said 'you know dad I am playing a farm animal' which seemed to put myself back in place."

So were there any funny "mad cow" moments? "There was one …when critics were coming. They had taken the cow head, Milky White, or the costume….maybe they took the whole thing I cant remember…down to the shop and there was an explosion on 18th street and the whole costume shop had collapsed. They had to send in firefighters to get Milky White so she could be on Broadway that night. She actually didn't make it for that evening's performance. I had to use a cow's head that wasn't animated which devastated me. They actually called off the critics coming that night because they didn't have Milky White's head. I thought that was really funny."

After Into The Woods, he has only appeared in new works – the first being My Life With Albertine which he finds to be exciting. "The music was so haunting and artful and hard to sing. Not necessarily technically but emotionally. It was fun to go straight from the cow to that because if I label myself anything I would label myself an actor first and a singer second. People I think were surprised at ….people who didn't know me thought I was a puppeteer! Working with Brent Carver…he would drive me nuts (he laughs). He would…but I love him. We would take a ten-minute break and be in the middle of the scene and they say 'all right you know what let's just take a ten.' Just a go away. And right when they said let's take a ten he (Brent) would say, as everyone was walking away, 'Wait! Let's talk about that point of the scene.' Then we would get into this long conversation and completely miss our ten minute break. It was always happening. It really was for the best though. Working with Kelli O'Hara was fantastic."

Next up for Kimball was a show near and dear to his heart, Memphis/>/> which played out of town. "It's one of those roles where you realize why you got into theatre and without sounding too proud, it's just one of those moments where you feel born to play a role that was made for you. It's a great show and I really hope it find its way to Broadway. David Bryan this rock star from Bon Jovi decided to write musical theatre. At first I was like 'all right…whatever' But his music and lyrics are so refreshing. It reminds me a lot of Yazbek but more gospel and R&B influenced. It's the best original music I have heard in a long time."

Back in NY, Chad/> joined the cast of Good Vibrations, and />/>sincerely thought it would garner an audience. "I try to remain really positive in face of diversity but there is point where I think you know we were so involved in the process… we all wanted to make it work. But there comes a point when you realize either the material has not presented itself in a workable fashion or the people that are fashioning the work are not doing it as competently as you think and I don't know what it was…it was a mixture of the two. It really should have gone out of town …to see the gaping problems it had. I did get to work with Kate (Reinders) again and she was fantastic."

Going from one "jukebox musical" to another is a gutsy move – but one Kimball embraced enthusiastically. "I read the script for Lennon and thought this is right up my alley. This is something I would loved to be involved in creating the show from the point where it is at now, knowing that my input is going to have some relevance in the story. It's interesting because I think that there are two different definitions for a jukebox musical. The first is the kind of Mamma Mia!, Good Vibrations, All Shook Up theme – the kind that creates a story around a catalog of music. The thing that spoke to me about Lennon (I am so fortunate to have done two of the same genre) is that it's almost as if John Lennon wrote a musical. It's hard to say. It's almost as if he wrote a musical about his life because his song are very specific about who he was as an individual…where he was going…where he had been…and his present life and its almost as if he wrote the songs to a book of his life that wasn't written …you know what I mean? So that's what really interested me about it. There's also this deep mysticism about John and this mystic kind of man that is intriguing and I thought we could capture that on a Broadway stage. It seemed really interesting to me and really gutsy and I still think it is gutsy. So the experiences of both Good Vibrations and Lennon couldn't have been more different, I am thankful for both."

Both shows didn't win reviewers hearts. When asked if Chad/>/> reads reviews, he replied, "Absolutely." And what about the message boards? "Sometimes. My brother also reads the message boards and sometimes he'll tell me about something and I will log on to see it. I don't usually read the message boards… I try not to. You want to know what people are saying about things about your show. Then you come along something they say about you and then you are like oh…is that really what … it is really ridiculous what some people write."

"I think we all kind of expected it… (the bad reviews for Good Vibrations) we expected the worst and we kind of got the worst. I don't think it was quite fair…I think that the reviewers at the beginning of the year my theory is hold themselves up in some secret building and wear cloaks and light candles and decide what they are going to pan and who is going to do the panning. But they really had it out for jukebox musicals which is unfortunate because when they tend to review on the merits of the actual theatrical piece they end up reviewing the device. So they are dismissive and I was really surprised about Lennon. I knew that we had some troubles and some problems but then at the same time - the great thing about doing a Broadway show is it doesn't all make sense right away. When we were in San Francisco/>/> and got mixed reviews and people assumed we'd close, it was frustrating. This is a creative process and you've got to allow that to happen and we all knew that."

"I try to remain absolutely objective and it's the hardest thing in the world. I constantly sit down and think is this show good…am I doing this show… is this good? What does it look like? How can I see it from a third eye? Is it possible? And because I was injured in July, I was able to see the show which was a huge help. Another thing that a lot of the reviewers did was to blame Yoko for a lot of things. They say it's Yoko's story…that it's Yoko's telling of John. Well she was in love with the man (A) and (B) she was rarely involved in making decisions about the show. Her advice to us was more along the lines of how they fell in love, where this happened and the chronology of certain events. Factual stuff. It wasn't take Cynthia out and put me in."

"It's funny - people decide they know more about John Lennon's life then John Lennon. Our entire story is his words and it's what he thought of his life by the time he got to the time in his life where he was. Apparently most reviewers decided that's not what Johns life is about which is hard for me to swallow. Honestly, our audiences absolutely love it (and I am the first person to say I hate it when people say that and they get so so reviews) but the audience really loves it and they they jump to their feet."

There are many moments in the show Chad/>/> enjoys, but the most is at the end when the cast sings 'Imagine,' "It's a point where we kind of step out as actors again. You can hear the audience gasp because they have waited all night to hear those first chords of 'Imagine' and there is a space - and then it starts. It feels important."

Before working on Lennon/>, Chad/>/> and his brother had the idea to create a clothing line called "Ogear."

Well my brother and I had been thinking about doing this clothing line for the last four years. One day he said 'wouldn't it be funny if we had a shirt that actually said what it was' and I asked him what he was talking about. He said 'like if you had a shirt and it just said blue shirt.' And I was like yeah actually that would be pretty cool because you know the t-shirt thing has been around for a couple of years now. In September things started falling into place when we found a designer. We got a kid who had designed t-shirts and he came up with some really cool designs. That's when we really started to think of doing it. Every sign pointed to us having this business happen and we just started having fun with it - refining the concept and thought it would be really popular and people would really dig it. It's been a great diversion from theatre to be able to go home and completely forget about that stuff. We wanted a high quality product that people would really like and have been in production for about nine months. We're about to do independent boutiques across the country and it is very exciting."

Ogear currently only offers t-shirts, but there are plans to expand the catalog. "
The intent is to make as many things as we possibly can. I think our next step is to add hats and underwear, boxers and briefs. We want to do some accessories (handbags and wallets). The possibilities are endless. But for now we are just excited about doing t-shirts. I think we are going to be offering some hoodies and sweatshirts and long sleeve shirts for the fall and winter."

Pulling double duty is no easy task, but one Kimball embraces enthusiastically. "The good thing is my brother and I split up the duties. I am more involved in creative aspect of things. He's more involved in the business aspect of things - which is great because I can make decisions on the creative process or where the company is going creatively and he can make the decisions more on the dollars and cents and finding more customers and things like that but it is a lot of fun. I just love doing it. I would much rather like to work for myself then go out and find another job. Starting any business is difficult but I'm fortunate having a great network here in NYC with a sphere of influence."

So what does the future hold for Chad/>/>? "I don't know. I would love to do some TV, but what I'd really love is to see Memphis/>/> on Broadway. It would be the crowning jewel in my career…if my career were ending in a few years (laughs) but it's one of those roles that you just love doing I can't wait for it to come here be seen. It is (not to sound dramatic or anything) but a triumph and return to the American Musical."

For more information about Chad, visit him online at

For more information about Ogear Clothing, visit

The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Lauren Campbell with this interview.

Photo credits (top to bottom): Linda Lenzi (Lennon Opening Night), Entertainment Weekly (Chad as Milky White), Paul Lyden (Chad in Memphis), Joan Marcus (Lennon).

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