BWW Interview: Shelley Keelor, 'Stage Mom' Extraordinaire
Shelley Keelor is a prolific woman, performing in venues across the world, stealing the stage in musical performances, and raising a son on her own. She's worked with countless award winners, of stage, screen, and music, and she's currently touring with a dazzling counter-tenor before she returns to the stage in Delray Beach this April. One word to describe Keelor, among the many best fitted to her talents, is busy.
It's Keelor's energy that makes her such an amazing person to see on stage or off. Her infectious smile betrays none of her busy schedule; Keelor is a pure ball of sunshine with the performative strength of a bomb. Having reviewed her this past year, and met her in the audience during a neutral ground show, Keelor was somebody I took note to keep an eye on as the season presses on. Moving through her stage work, to her concert tours, to her soloist productions became an interesting task, so I went to the source to get some answers.
Between her many concert commitments, I was given the opportunity to interview Keelor, asking her questions about her past, her present shows, and what Florida audiences can expect to see from her next.
1. Your resume showcases quite the performance list, from concerts to stage, how long have you been performing in South Florida?
I moved to South Florida in 2005, and landed a job that summer at Palm Beach Dramaworks. I took about 5 years off from theatre contracts after having my son and mostly did concerts and solo work, then started back up in theatre productions in 2012. So I guess technically, I've only worked in South FL theatre for 6 years. This year will be my 7th.
2. What are some of the most memorable performers or shows you've worked with, any excellent stories to share?
I believe it's a toss up between meeting and working with the late and celebrated, Gian Carlo Menotti (composer of renowned operas such as Amahl and the Night Visitors and The Consul) or Celeste Holm. Although I had the privilege of performing at two of Menotti's Spoleto Festivals, in Italy and Charleston, SC, I'll never forget meeting Ms. Holm. Not because I performed with her, but with her boyfriend, and later husband who was 45 years her junior. Frank Basile and I were hired to perform with the Istanbul State Symphony in Turkey on a mini-tour called Broadway Nights. The rehearsals for this tour took place in New York City, and that is when I had the privilege of meeting and visiting with Ms. Holm. I remember what was most impressive about the two of them is that they didn't act as though there was this considerable age difference, and she was extremely supportive of his career. That was very endearing. Ms Holm was also very charming and treated me as though we were colleagues.
3. I see you're still on tour right now with Terry Barber, this is your third season performing with him, how's that process been? Is the third time the charm?
Yes, 3rd going on 4th! It has been an extraordinary process and a blessing. Terry, of course, is a well-known countertenor (a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to that of the female mezzo-soprano voice). Although, Terry embraces other musical styles beautifully, as well. I'm not sure what is more remarkable, his voice, or his fun-loving and kind personality. I'm extremely fortunate to be doing these concert tours with him, The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Broadway Music on Tour, both produced by Jack Starr. After Terry heard me sing in a competition, we hit it off, he asked me to be his co-lead in the concerts. That was in 2014, and we have had reappearances at some venues each season since; we are premiering at other venues now, nationally, including this week at the Sedona Performing Arts Center during the Sedona International Film Festival. A huge part of our success together is that we complement one another quite well. We are both classically trained, (him much more than me!), and although we are equally versatile, his voice has a purer classical legit sound- my voice is a bit more contemporary sounding. He can still do a mean rendition of "Heaven on Their Minds" from Jesus Christ Superstar and I still have those soprano notes, thankfully. You can check us out at our upcoming shows in South Florida: March 2nd, at The Lyric Theatre in Stuart, March 16th at Eissey Theatre Campus in Palm Beach Gardens, or March 30th at The Crest Theatre in Delray.
I have the pleasure of being the opening act for RoBert Klein, about 30-40 minutes of my one-woman show with a live trio band. He then comes out to do his magic, which includes telling jokes and stories and singing a few numbers that I remember to be both hilarious and touching. The audiences down here absolutely love him. I have had the pleasure of meeting and performing with Mr. Klein before. He is extremely kind and generous so I'm looking forward to the four upcoming shows that I will do with him in March.
5. You're also a big performer on stage, many South Florida audiences will remember you from the successful Heathers with Slow Burn Theatre Co at The Broward Center, which was actually where I first saw you perform. What's next?
I will be making my debut at The Wick Theatre in the musical, BEEHIVE this April and May. It's my debut in a production at the theatre, although I was a part of their gala and costume exhibit Where Runway Meets Broadway in September of 2016. I can't wait to do this exciting musical highlighting the iconic women and their songs of the 60's!
6. You're also a family woman, any advice to mothers or families looking to succeed in the arts and also succeed at parenting?
Well, I will not give advice on the latter (Keelor laughs). All parents have their own set of values. Although, I consider myself to be a genuinely good parent. I can speak to the former. And I speak as an expert, because my challenges are triple-fold. As a full-time single parent, with no family in the vicinity, being a professional performer, and working as a private voice teacher mostly in the afternoons or evenings.
It is essential to develop your network of friends, and 'sub-family', in my case especially. In business, they call this your sphere. In my world, I call them my angels. With the help of other mom friends, babysitters, and even neighbors, somehow I manage to make it all work. I feel extremely blessed to have the people that I do in my life, and I treasure each and every one of them. In my case, you can't be afraid to ask for help. I always try to return the favor when I can, or certainly go above and beyond to show my gratitude. So, to be a mom in the biz, or "stage mom" as they say, it requires straightforwardness, sincerity, determination and plenty of faith. I guess I will respond to one parenting tip: Teach your child to be polite, consistently polite. This will go a long way when or if your child has to tag along back stage.
7. At the end of the day, what do you hope people get from your performances?
The biggest compliment that I can receive from an audience member is, "you really moved me". This means that I told the story well. And whether I'm singing a song or speaking my lines, my job is to take the audience on a journey by revealing the character's emotions. When one connects with the character on an emotional level, consequently, the interaction becomes deep and meaningful for the audience and allows the audience to viscerally take part in the story and bond with the character(s). This applies to singing as well as acting. If it's one song or twenty, one character or ten (often the case in a concert), I want the audience to walk away having experienced feelings- whatever they may be. Certainly it is my 2nd greatest joy, to provoke emotions through my performances. My greatest joy is when my son is in the audience.