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BWW Interviews: KEVIN KERN Takes on The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, 2/16 - 2/21

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While the Northern East Coast of the U.S. was hammered with blizzard-like conditions last week, Broadway vet Kevin Kern was busy with the launch of THE MUSIC OF Andrew Lloyd Webber, the concert revue he co-stars in, which compiles many of the prolific composer's musical hits that are in turn interpreted by six talented, well-known performers of the Broadway stage. Luckily, he and the extraordinary cast will get the chance to thaw out a little bit when the show pays a visit to the Orange County Performing Arts Center for a limited, one-week engagement on February 16 through 21.

Kern-whose theater credits include Broadway's Wicked, The Wedding Singer, and Les Misérables, as well as the pre-Broadway runs of 9 to 5: The Musical and Next to Normal-recently took some time in between performances to talk with BroadwayWorld's Michael Lawrence Quintos to discuss the concert, as well as his early work in the original casts of Altar Boyz and 9 to 5 (in the latter, he divulges his early star-struck shyness towards a certain Ms. Parton). He also breaks the exclusive news (to us first!) about his upcoming involvement in a hit musical that's about to cross the pond over to London!

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BWW: Hey, Kevin! I'm so sorry you guys have been experiencing some insane weather over there. At least you get to come to sunny Orange County, California next! 

Kevin: Exactly! I'm really looking forward to it!

Cool! So tell me a little bit more about THE MUSIC OF Andrew Lloyd Webber. Is it like a jukebox musical with a story weaving the songs together or is it a straight-up musical concert revue?

It's really like a concert...a song cycle, almost, in that each song kind of connects to the next one, but there's no story. It goes through different compilations of different [Lloyd Webber] shows. So, for example, we hit things like Jesus Christ Superstar-we'll do 3 songs from that show. We're doing a week in Philadelphia, a week in Costa Mesa, then a week in Dallas. So, it's sort of like a mini-tour.

Care to spill any spoilers as to which songs you yourself will be singing in the show?

Well, I'll be singing "Gethsemane" in that little go-round. And then the next thing I'll be singing is from Woman in White, "Underneath My Heart." Then I'm doing songs from Starlight Express, Sunset Boulevard, and The Phantom of the Opera.

So, reading the cast roster of this show, it's pretty staggering to see the amount of talent that's going to be featured on the same stage!

I know! I mean, Howard McGillin is just so amazing! He was, you know, the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera for, like, 2,500 performances! He's great! And Laurie Gayle Stephenson, she was in the original MUSIC OF Andrew Lloyd Webber tour with Liz Callaway and Laurie Beechman... Then there's Kathy Voytko...she was in the original Evita tour. And also there's David Josefsberg, he's a good buddy of mine! We're, like, best friends and we've done a bunch of shows together. So it's cool that we get to go out there to Costa Mesa and do this together! I'm really excited about that!

Yeah, it does seem like you guys follow each other around!

Well, yeah [Laughs]... but not on purpose!

Do you in particular have any pre-show rituals? How do you prepare for a performance?

Well, I have to do everything, like, six times in my head before I go on. Actually, right before we started talking I was walking down the street singing all the songs for this show to myself! [Laughs]

Wow, were people on the street staring at you?

Oh, no. I was doing it very quietly. [Laughs] But, yeah, I have to do that, for sure. I mean, I just finished Wicked...it's a big part, but I don't actually have to be on stage all that much doing Fiyero. But numbers like "Dancing Through Life"... I would have to do the whole number every single time backstage some place, just to do it. I mean, I just feel I have to do that before I go on, even if I know something cold. Actually, this is funny... on my last week [as Fiyero] a few of the crew guys kept saying "You're still doing this? It's your last week! You still don't know this?"

That's funny. Coincidentally, by the way, you're the second person I've interviewed in the last few weeks that left the role of Fiyero on Broadway. David Burnham had some great things to say about his time in Wicked. And the actor now playing Fiyero on Broadway, Andy Karl...you've worked with him most recently on 9 to 5 as well, right?

[Laughs] Actually, David Josefsberg is the only other actor that has been in more shows with me than Andy! Andy and I have done Altar Boyz, then Wedding Singer, and then 9 to 5 together. So, it's kind of surprising that we both weren't staying together in Wicked.

Wow, Broadway is such a small world, then! So did you leave anything behind in your old dressing room for him?

Yeah! For him, I left behind all of my booze. [Laughs]

That's great! Okay, so I often ask this with a lot of actors that are in touring shows... do you find it especially difficult as a husband and father to be away from family?

Well, luckily, this [show] is just a short stint, when it all comes down to it. I think it would be really hard for me to go out on a real honest-to-goodness tour where I'd be, you know, gone for months and months at a time. You know, even this week... I was in Philly and they cancelled our show last night [because of the snowstorms]. So I decided to drive back home-it's only about an hour and a half away from where I live. So, I drove back up to see my kids and hung out. So, yeah, it's really tough for us to be away from each other. You know, while I was doing [the pre-Broadway run of] 9 to 5, I was actually in California for a total of nine weeks. At one point I was there for five weeks straight without seeing my kids, and it was just... horrible. I mean, it was just too much.

Well, that's great then that they got to be with you, at least for the night. So, speaking of 9 to 5... I actually caught that pre-Broadway run up in L.A. Can you talk a little bit about your experience with that musical?

I had such a great experience! It was funny because I was doing 9 to 5 with [director] Joe Mantello and then he later asked me to do Wicked. I mean, it was sort of up to him where he wanted to place me... but I would have loved to stay with 9 to 5 and opened that on Broadway. But, anyway, I had such a great time in that show...working with all the great people involved like Joe Mantello... There's [choreographer] Andy Blankenbuehler, who actually went to my high school and so it was great to work with him because he's an old friend of mine. The producers were great and, of course, meeting Dolly Parton was amazing!

You know, in the first rehearsal we had where she was there, everyone got pictures with her, but I-and I am such an outgoing person-but I was sooo nervous to be around her, I couldn't even talk to her! [Laughs] It took about three to five tries, and I'm a country boy from Kentucky so, you know, nobody's bigger than Dolly Parton! Well, I just knew that if I went up to her, I would just start gushing! So it wasn't until when we were in rehearsals in L.A. that, while she was there, I just sort of struck up a conversation with her. I never got a picture with her because I just sort of wanted to try to have a personal relationship with her... and she is the nicest, nicest person in the world!

So we sat down and she told me all these great stories. She told me this one story about, when she was just starting out, how Elvis and the Colonel [his manager, Tom Parker] asked her to sell them one of her songs so that Elvis could sing it. She was new and, like I said, was just starting out as a singer/songwriter...so the Colonel asked her, "you understand, now, that if Elvis sings your song, it belongs to Elvis! You will no longer own that song." And Dolly responded, "Well, honey, I came from nothin.' And all I got is my music! So if I ain't got my music, I ain't got nothin' again!" So she didn't sell him her song! She just couldn't give away the rights to any of her songs. She was just starting out and it would have been great exposure for her, but she felt it was more important to stand her ground, and I just thought that was so amazing!

And, so anyway, we had a 4-month lay-off after 9 to 5 ended in L.A., and I went straight into Wicked to replace Aaron Tveit who left to do Next to Normal on Broadway. It's funny because I did Next to Normal as a standby when it was playing off-Broadway! So it's kind of this crazy thing where, while I was in Next to Normal off-Broadway, I got to know David Stone who was a producer of Wicked...then went into 9 to 5 and got to know the director of Wicked... When Next to Normal was about to go to Broadway, they just asked me to stay on in Wicked for the rest of the year, and so I did. It would have been cool to be part of 9 to 5 opening on Broadway, but [Fiyero] was a bigger role.

Were you disappointed that 9 to 5 didn't last longer than it did?

Oh, yeah, I was so bummed. I thought it was such a great show. I don't think the critics gave it a chance... I think maybe they seem to always be weary of what they may consider "interlopers" on their "turf." I don't think they understood that somebody like Dolly wasn't trying to just kind of bring in a commercialized money-maker. She and everyone involved really cared about the piece. I think they got a bad rap as a sort of, maybe, "theme park show" or something, and that they were just trying to use the title and Dolly to sell tickets. It really wasn't that...

I was surprised too, because when I saw it at the Ahmanson Theatre, it seemed like such a crowd-pleaser!

Yeah, exactly! People loved it! It got a really bad rap with the critics, but the people just loved it.

Okay, let's talk about another show you've been in that many people loved too that recently closed: Altar Boyz! Now, you were in the original cast, but which of the roles did you cover?

Actually, I covered all five guys! And I went on for all five parts! It was sooo difficult! I mean, it was not only [knowing] different personalities and acting them, but also learning all five parts of the five-part harmony! With the dancing, most of it was the same, but-depending on who of the five guys I'm playing during the show-I was in a different place within the setup of each dance number. And, of course, on top of that were these five crazy characters that I had to play that were each so vastly different.

Now, forgive me for asking this... how do you, or rather, how were you able to pull off playing, um, Juan?

[Laughs] You know, in the script, Juan has this monologue about how the nuns in his school sounded [and so they taught him to speak] with their Spanish accents! But I think, at one point, the guy who was playing Juan... they wanted him to have red hair and freckles...sort of like a sight gag! But then, in the end, they decided to go with an actual Latino-looking guy. But, you know what? I was a pretty good Juan, I have to tell you! And, also... [Laughs] Yeah, between me and Jo-berg, I was a better Abe! [Laughs]

Actually, in truth, they were all so awesome... all of those guys! We had such a great time and they made it so easy to do it. I mean, Tyler Maynard, was so funny! Scott Porter, Ryan Duncan and Andy Karl were so awesome! They all created these great characters that were so easy to step into. Of course, I was able to make each one my own [when I played them] and everything, but it was such a fun time. Daniel Torres, who's on tour with Wicked now, was the other swing with me. We had about two rehearsals a week doing different parts and trying to learn them. Once we learned them, it's like juggling bowling balls! It was crazy!

Let's talk a little bit about your roots. Tell me, did you know growing up as a young country boy that you wanted to be a musical theater actor?

You know, I really didn't. I mean, I always really enjoyed singing, but it really wasn't until I went into high school that I realized that I could have a future doing this. Growing up I had done some modeling, commercials and stuff like that...

Oh, really? Cool! Would I have seen you in a magazine or anything like that?

[Laughs] Yeah! I was on a Star Wars box when I was a kid! I was on an R2-D2 box! All my film school friends, when I went to NYU, told me basically that that was as far as I was going to go in my career. They all thought I peaked at 5 as far as they were concerned. [Laughs].

But, anyway, so my sister, my brother and I were all only sort of into it-although now my sister's a stockbroker, but my brother's actually an actor out there in L.A. So then I started doing shows while attending an all-boys Jesuit high school that drew girls [for female roles] from schools all over the city. A bunch of Broadway people have come out of this after-school program called Theater Xavier which was across the river in Cincinnati from where I lived in Northern Kentucky. So, yeah, once in high school, I realized that this was something I was good at and it was something I should pursue. So I went on to NYU and continued to grow. From there, I was cast in Les Misérables and I guess the rest, as they say, is history!

Growing up, who were your musical influences?

You know, I think the one band that I always listened to was The Beatles. It's funny because they're sort of classic musical theater, almost, in a way. The way they sung sort of taught me how to sing for what musical theater is now: sort of modern, pop musical theater that's still classically-based. They all have great voices and a lot of their songs are sort of "storytelling" songs. I have to say that singing along with The Beatles really taught me how to sing. 

Of all the many roles you've played in the past, do one or two stick out as your favorite(s)?

Well, being Marius [from Les Misérables] is my favorite. It was just great. Being a part of that show... it was just a bunch of, like... guys. I mean... gay, straight, whatever... there was just this great camaraderie, and everyone really embraced that sort of student revolutionary feel. It was just so much fun. And being Marius...it was such a great part in a really special show, during a really special part in my life. I'll probably never do a show as good as Les Mis...but I hope to come close.

Now, what about shows that you haven't done... is there a role on your wish list in another show that you hope to play someday?

You know, I would love to go back and do Next to Normal... to play the father. God, I would love to finally do that! When I was in Next to Normal [off-Broadway], I covered both Brian d'Arcy James who played the father and Asa Somers who played the Doctor at that point. I just loved that show and had such a great time learning the roles...but I never went on. I would love to do that show just to do it finally...and it's such an awesome part and it's very challenging. I think it would be a lot of fun to do.

If you were asked to do the tour, would you accept the role?

Well...probably not. You know, like I've said before, it's just so tough [to go on tour]. But, let me tell you... I'll give you a scoop...for what I'm doing next!

Cool! Let me have it!

Well, my wife and I-and we both just accepted this in the past couple of days-are both going to do Hair in London!

Wow, that's great, Kevin!

Yeah! My wife [Tony nominee Megan Lawrence] was in the cast of Hair here. They've been asking her to go [to London with the company] but she thought it was just going to be too hard with the kids and everything with just her going. So she initially turned it down. Then I went in [to audition] for the show to do it on Broadway, but a guy dropped out of the cast that was going to London. So they asked me if I wanted that spot. And I had a great audition...it was probably the greatest audition I've had in forever!

After that, they asked if I wanted to do an ensemble part and go over to London... and then both [my wife and I] can go and we can take the kids and be over there the whole time! So, the deal is she'll be over there for four months and I'll be over there for six months altogether. So, yeah, it's really exciting! The whole time [before] we were really bummed because we really wanted to make it work out, just for the experience of going to London and everything.

So besides Megan, anyone else in the original cast going to London?

Yeah, it's basically most of the original Broadway cast! I think Gavin Creel and Will Swenson are both going. I think pretty much most of the cast are going except for maybe three or four people. I'm taking over for Theo Stockman, who is about to do American Idiot, so he couldn't go to London. So I'll be taking over his part there!

That's awesome! Well, thanks for the exclusive scoop! Well, before I end our interview, I'd like to throw you a few rapid-fire questions. Just tell me the first thing that comes to your mind. Ready?

What is your favorite musical?

Jesus Christ Superstar! I had so much fun doing it this year!

Who is your favorite solo musician/artist?

Probably James Taylor.

What's the one song you belt loudly in the shower or when you're all alone?

Ha! [Laughs] "Sister Christian."

Who is the person you admire the most... living or dead?

Oh, jeez. You know...I'll say, just for right now-since I'm in Philadelphia and I'm reading his autobiography right now-I'll say Ben Franklin. I think it's just the most amazing story.

What's your guilty pleasure?

Skyline Chili. I love it.

What or who irritates you?

Hmmm.... people without an open mind!

What instantly puts a smile on your face?

Ahh. My kids!

If you weren't an actor, what career do you see yourself doing instead?

Wow. I don't know. I'll probably be homeless. [Laughs]

Ha! Well, I'm glad you're an actor, then. Okay, so what's the one piece of advice you'd like to share with young theater students who want to be a musical theater actor just like you?

I would say... definitely go to college! I think that's invaluable, and not even as a fallback. I think it's really important to go to college if you want to be a smart actor.

And, lastly, what can we expect from THE MUSIC OF Andrew Lloyd Webber...the show?

Honestly, it's such a great show. I think what's great about it is that the whole family can enjoy this show. While it's not a kids' show necessarily, I think there's just a lot of great songs. You know, you tend to forget how great Andrew Lloyd Webber truly is. You know, it's funny, but I always think... you asked me what my favorite show is, it really is Superstar! So much of his music is so great and all of his classics are in this show.

Photo of Kevin Kern as Fiyero in WICKED by Joan Marcus.

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THE MUSIC OF Andrew Lloyd Webber will star performers who are noted interpreters of Lloyd Webber's music and well-known to Broadway fans. Headlining the show will be six Broadway stars that include Tony® Award-nominee Howard McGillin, best known for his record-setting appearance as The Phantom of the Opera, a role he performed over 2,500 times on Broadway (Anything Goes, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Kiss of the Spider Woman, She Loves Me, Mack and Mabel, The Secret Garden); David Josefsberg (Les Misérables, Altar Boyz, Grease); Laurie Gayle Stephenson (Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, Lily in The Secret Garden); Kathy Voytko (lead in original revival of Oklahoma!, also Nine the Musical, Eva Peron in Evita); Kevin Kern (Fiyero in Wicked, Marius in Les Misérables, 9 to 5 the Musical, Next to Normal, Altar Boyz) and Deone Zanotta (A Chorus Line, West End production of We Will Rock You, Australian premieres of Dirty Dancing, Footloose, Chicago, Fame, West Side Story).

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber is a grand concert showcasing the Tony, Grammy® and Academy Award®-winning composer's biggest and most memorable hits. A full onstage symphony orchestra will accompany the soloists, recreating countless extraordinary moments and thrills created by one of the most acclaimed composers of our time. It will be an evening to revisit such legendary musicals as Cats, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, Sunset Boulevard, Jesus Christ Superstar, Whistle Down the Wind, Starlight Express, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and more.

Presented by Jeffrey Finn Productions, this new version of the concert was personally devised by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It follows the blueprint of the recent sold-out engagements at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Tickets to see THE MUSIC OF Andrew Lloyd Webber start at $20 and are available online at OCPAC.org, at the Center's Box Office at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa or by calling 714.556.2787. For inquiries about group ticket discounts for 15 or more, call the Group Services office at 714.755.0236. The TTY number is 714.556.2746. The 2 p.m. performance on Saturday, February 20 will be sign-language interpreted.

For more information, visit OCPAC.org.


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