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BWW Interview: Kevin Carolan of COME FROM AWAY at Hennepin Theatre Trust

This ensemble show about grounded planes on 9/11 soars.

BWW Interview: Kevin Carolan of COME FROM AWAY at Hennepin Theatre Trust For the first time on a Minneapolis stage, Tony Award-winning COME FROM AWAY is being performed at the Orpheum now through Jan. 23, and while it's about a day that elicits most sad and tragic memories for anyone who remembers Sept. 11, 2001, the warm, engaging, funny and completely human musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, is bringing audiences to their feet after 90 minutes of laughter, tears, rapt attention and more tears. (Yeah, Minneapolis audiences are known for never wasting a good standing O, but rather than jumping up to move their legs or head to the parking garage, opening night audiences leapt to their feet as if moved by the emotions they were riding that night and stayed put.)

The ensemble cast play everyone from residents of a small town in northeastern Canada to people from the planes that landed there on that fateful day; each actor playing multiple roles. Actor Kevin Carolan shared some things about his experience in the U.S. national tour and his career with this 6 Questions.

For audience members who have not seen this show before, please describe from your perspective what it's like and how the production addresses the events of 9/11, especially from your role as Claude, the mayor of the town Gander, Newfoundland, Canada.

COME FROM AWAY tells the story of a small town with a large airport on the northeast tip of North America, where on 9/11/01, 38 planes with 7,000 passengers from around the world were diverted. The 9,000 townspeople of Gander, mobilized with the help of mayor Claude Elliot, took these people in, fed them, comforted them, and five days later got them on their way home. These kind people asked for nothing in return, because "you would have done the same."

And that story is told by 12 actors and eight musicians, using costume pieces, lighting and staging to portray the many people of Gander and the "plane people," creating a most remarkable theatrical event.

Did you do any special preparation to play Claude, such as meeting with the real mayor, studying up on Gander, listening to the interviews the writers did with the people there, etc.?

The first two weeks of rehearsal for the tour, along with learning the music, we were treated to a treasure of information on Gander, including a documentary hosted by Tom Brokaw, hours of interviews with both townspeople from Gander as well as many "plane people," and documented minutes from emergency Town Hall meetings during the event.

And we got to meet and spend time with many of our real-life counterparts when we opened the tour in Seattle in October 2018, which was a celebration in itself.

That must have been amazing. This show is a strong ensemble cast piece, and you've been touring with this cast and crew for a little while now. What do you enjoy most about the show, as an actor who has toured extensively in your career?

The love that we get from audiences at the end of our show is an amazing reward that none of us take for granted. We are honored to be able to tell this story night after night. (And on a side note, in response to the surging omicron variant, we were able to keep the show running most of last week with the help of cast members from every company of COME FROM AWAY around the world, in the spirit of kindness and care that is in keeping with the theme of the show.) The bar was raised pretty high for me, after touring with both CHICAGO THE MUSICAL and Disney's NEWSIES, but COME FROM AWAY soars above it.

Kevin Carolan

You grew up in New Jersey and have spent your life in and around NYC; can you tell your story of 9/11 - were you there that day or what do you recall your experience of it was? Does your memory of that time color your performance?

I was at home on 9/11, taking care of my daughter Kate, when my sister called, worried that I might be in NYC that day. As I told her I was home, I turned on the TV, and saw what I thought was footage of the first plane, but I was actually seeing live footage of the second tower being hit. I turned off the TV soon after that.

I am reminded of my experience on 9/11 often during the song "Something's Missing," a number late in the show that addresses how people felt days after the tragedy, trying to get back to any sense of normalcy. It's also not hard to draw comparisons to the current pandemic.

How did you come to have your portrait drawn by Al Hirschfeld? (Check it out at http://www.kevincarolan.com/.)

I was a longtime fan of Al Hirschfeld, and it was a dream of mine to be in a Broadway show that he was hired to sketch.

In 1999, I was looking to buy a piece of his artwork at the Margo Feiden Gallery, which exclusively sold his work. As I was looking around, I saw proofs of people I didn't recognize, and learned that people could commission Mr. Hirschfeld for a portrait, much the same way that the NY Times did. I was able to meet with him at his brownstone, and he started to draw my caricature as we chatted.

I always thought I cheated a little by hiring him, instead of by being cast in a Broadway show that he was drawing. But less than three months after I received the final draft I booked my first Broadway show. So I just did it a little out of order.

Maybe that was your lucky charm! You've had some really great roles on stage and been in quite a few film/TV productions (see bio below). What has been your favorite role to date, and what is on your list for a future job you'd love to do?

I have love for every opportunity I've had to perform, and I've had the great fortune to work with people that I've been fans of for my entire life, including Martin Scorsese and Mel Brooks. Mel Brooks!

But one of my favorites was the chance to create an iconic Disney character in a stage production of one of their classic films by originating the role of Baloo in THE JUNGLE BOOK, a co-production of The Goodman Theatre in Chicago and the Huntington Theatre in Boston. Being directed by Mary Zimmerman, choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, playing alongside the incredible André DeShields, and singing the songs of The Sherman Brothers was undoubtedly a career highlight. I'll never forget it.

6 Quick Hits

  1. Favorite musical you have not been in? GYPSY
  2. What are you reading? Circe by Madeline Miller
  3. What color are you usually wearing? Pink, or Purple
  4. Tour stop that was the most memorable? Milwaukee, WI (I think because I had an amazing Airbnb. <laughing/crying emoji>)
  5. What's your drink order? Gin Martini, up with a twist.
  6. What charity do you always support? Covenant House

More Info:

Read BWW's review of COME FROM AWAY, and get your tickets at www.hennepintheatretrust.org. Shows run through Jan. 23, 2022, at the Orpheum. Vaccination proof and masks required.

Pro tip: Plan to stay through the curtain call to enjoy some rousing music from the on-stage band that'll send you out into the cold Minneapolis night with a smile on your face.

Bio: Kevin Carolan (Claude & Others):

Broadway: Disney's Newsies (Gov. Roosevelt-Original Cast, National Tour, and Feature Film). Tours: Chicago (North America, Japan, Dubai.) Regional: Goodman/Huntington (The Jungle Book, Baloo, dir. Mary Zimmerman) Movies: Bear With Us, Can You Ever Forgive Me. TV:"Billions" and "Boardwalk Empire," "The Middle," "The Good Wife," "Curb Your Enthusiasm." kevincarolan.com

Kevin Carolan is an award-winning actor and singer, building a successful career over the last 25 years and directed by some of the most talented artists in show business, including Martin Scorese, Larry David, Tim Van Patten, Joe Mantello, Walter Bobbie, James Lapine, and Mel Brooks.

He has numerous appearances on television shows such as Orange Is The New Black, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Middle, The Good Wife, Royal Pains, Spin City, Fringe, White Collar, and the recurring role of the Barker in HBO's Boardwalk Empire.

Kevin has toured the U.S., Canada, Tokyo, and Dubai, U.A.E. as Amos Hart in the musical Chicago, and performed in historic regional theatres such as The Goodman Theatre, The Huntington Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, and the Paper Mill Playhouse.

He has appeared on Broadway in Dirty Blonde, The Ritz, Chicago (10th Anniversary Celebration), originated the role of Teddy Roosevelt in Disney's Newsies!, which he returns to in the national tour, and recently created the role of Baloo in a new adaptation of Disney's The Jungle Book, directed by Tony Award winner Mary Zimmerman, for which the Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) awarded him Best Supporting Actor in a Musical. He is also among the artists that have been drawn by world-renowned caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. See it here.

Kevin, born in the Bronx and raised in New Jersey, is both an American and Irish citizen, and lives in New Jersey with his wife of over 20 years, Maryann Carolan, a writer and teacher, and his two children, Kate and Jack.

Photos:

First American Tour of COME FROM AWAY. Nick Duckart, Kevin Carolan, Aaron Samonsky and Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2018. Courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.

Headshot of Kevin Carolan by Xanthe Elbrick.



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