BWW Review: Derek Klena Blows the Roof Off the El Portal
On Saturday August 10, singer/actor Derek Klena, now a popular leading man on Broadway, returned to his California roots to present his first live LA concert on the El Portal Mainstage. To say it clicked, is an understatement. I have seen Klena perform since 2009 when he came in a runnerup in LA's Next Great Stage Star. He is handsome, charming, a real promising performer who comes from a warm West Covina family. Maybe it's because of these roots that he is so successful right now. He adores his caring mother and father and two siblings Lauren and Dillon. Though married to his college sweetheart and living in NYC, he returns regularly to celebrate birthdays and holidays with the family or to see his brother Dylan perform on local stages.
He's been singing since grade school and he and his sister and brother entered contests and competitions. In fact, in this show, Klena showed a video of himself at age 13 singing Styx's "Lady". For his age, he had a great voice even then and presented himself without fear in a full-out performance of the song. His parents encouraged him and told him to always give it his best shot. When at UCLA he thought of becoming a pro baseball player, but found himself torn between that...and the stage. The stage, of course, won out.
In the concert show Klena told of his background, his chance to come to New York and audition for Marc Shaiman and the replacement cast of Catch Me If You Can. He didn't get that, but did win a role in the off-Broadway Carrie, following that a marine in the off-Broadway Dogfight and then on to Broadway in the 10th anninversary production of Wicked. His costar in both latter shows was Tony winner Lindsay Mendez, the special guest of the evening, who dueted with him on"First Date/Last Night" from Dogfight and "As Long As You're Mine" from Wicked. She has a sterling voice and commands the stage. Klena proceeded to talk about his role in Jason Robert Brown's Broadway show The Bridges of Madison County and eventually Anastasia in which he played the leading role Dimitry.
He and pianist Ben Rauhala talked casually about playing a role and how you approach it. In Bridges, Klena had a small part as the son Michael Johnson and dreamed of singing much more. In this engrossing segment he sang from the show, adding lyrics from the lead actors to the few he sang and also other Jason Robert Brown songs, displaying how you have to dream big. He entitled this medley "Ballad of Michael Johnson". Emily Rosenfield accompanied beautifully on guitar with Rauhala equally sensational on piano.
Other musical highlights of the 90-minute concert included: "Go the Distance", "Out There" from Hunchback of Notre Dame, "Dancing Through Life" from Wicked, "Some Kinda Time" from Dogfight, "Goodbye" from Catch Me If You Can, "How Wonderful Life Is, Now You're In the World", a tribute to his new bride, and his finale medley a touching "I'll Always Remember Us This Way", "All You Need Is Love" and the hilarious "You'll Be Back" from Hamilton. Klena really cut loose with this last number. There was also a preview of the show he is doing in November on Broadway Jagged Little Pill, a moving song called "You Learn". Klena also performed from Carrie (" Dreamer in Disguise") and Dimitry's 'want song' from Anastasia.
Klena is soft spoken, gentle as he performs, but has such fun and is not afraid to be himself. He has really developed a style all his own. After 8 years on New York stages, he has learned from the best and has become a seasoned pro. Go to Broadway in November or don't miss him again in concert wherever and whenever he performs!