BWW Exclusive: Broadway Star and Beloved Stratford Veteran, Chilina Kennedy Talks her much Anticipated Return to the Stratford Festival in THE HOUSE OF MARTIN GUERRE
As shows begin to close and we enter into the final month of the 2019 season at the Stratford Festival, audiences still have the opportunity to catch some exciting theatre. In addition to the final few performances of 4 of this season's shows, there is also one remaining event as part of the Meighen Forum-possibly the most anticipated forum event of the season. on November 4th, Broadway star Chilina Kennedy returns to Stratford for a one night only in-concert performance of Leslie Arden's acclaimed Canadian musical THE HOUSE OF MARTIN GUERRE. Based on real life events from the 16th century this musical tells the story of a man who abandoned his family and then allegedly returned years later, a changed man...eventually discovered to be an imposter. The production will be directed by the great Richard Ouzounian, who also directed THE FANTASTICKS in concert with Eric McCormack last season. Many members of the Stratford Festival company will be featured in this production, as will Adam Brazier, who will reunite with Ms. Kennedy after starring alongside her in the World Premiere of EVANGELINE at the Confederation Centre of the Arts (for which Brazier serves as Artistic Director).
Stratford audiences may remember Ms. Kennedy from her much lauded lead performances in WEST SIDE STORY, EVITA, and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR to name just a few. Since then, she transferred to Broadway with the rest of the company of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, and then played over a thousand performances on Broadway as the title character in BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL. Currently, she is starring as Dina in the national tour of THE BAND'S VISIT. Broadway World had the chance to speak with Ms. Kennedy a few days after she concluded the Toronto run of THE BAND'S VISIT. She shared her excitement to finally return to the Stratford Festival, and her passion for THE HOUSE OF MARTIN GUERRE.
BWW: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Audiences are so excited for your grand return to the Stratford Festival in THE HOUSE OF MARTIN GUERRE in concert! How did this opportunity come about?
Chilina Kennedy: Thank you. First of all, it's great to be back! I've been dying for an opportunity to come back to Stratford for a while now so it's nice that this is it. And I've been a fan of the show for years. I think it was in the 90's, in Toronto and saw it and I absolutely loved it. I just fell in love with it...and I so I just thought this was perfect.
Richard Ouzounian and I had been talking for a while about what to do and what show would be right to do at Stratford in this concert series. So we threw around a bunch of ideas. The dates would shift and the ideas would change and finally we landed on this coming season and this particular show and as soon as he said THE HOUSE OF MARTIN GUERRE I said "absolutely!"
BWW: This production will bring about many reunions for you-with Festival company members, as well as with Adam Grazier, your co-star from EVANGELINE. Is there something you're looking forward to most in terms of reunions?
CK: Certainly working with Adam is top of my list.-And also being reunited with Juan (Chioran) and Monique (Lund) and all the wonderful people...and right down to the ensemble. I just think that all of the folks are just marvelous and there are some great singers in the cast. I can't wait to sing with all of them.
BWW: You mentioned that you already have a connection to this show. Admittedly, my knowledge of it is limited, which is why I'm so excited to see it done.
CK: It's not produced very often and I think the reason for that is because it is so big. It's like an epic LES MIS style sized show and so I'm not surprised that it's not produced more often because everything's getting smaller and smaller and smaller and budgets are getting smaller, but I really do hope to see a full production of it at some point soon. It's just one of those special shows that sticks out...And it's Canadian and obviously we should celebrate our Canadian shows-especially this really good one!
There's a wonderful feminist message in it too that I hadn't really quite understood before. I don't think I was as receptive to it when I saw it as I am now. But the female message in it is really quite powerful.
BWW: Can you tell us about your character Bertrande?
CK: Bertrande is someone who was married off at eleven years old and all she's known basically is this life that was kind of imposed on her-this role of wife. She was in a loveless marriage for eight years and was impregnated by her husband and then he left. So all she's really known until he returns is this loneliness, and trying to keep her chin up even though life is obviously quite hard and without a lot of choice for her. There's not much she can really do with her life other than raise her son and try to be as happy as she can while her husband is away, with the unlikelihood that he will ever return. So it's kind of bleak for her until he returns, and obviously it's not him when he returns and that's the whole beautiful part of the show is that she actually falls in love with the man who claims to be her husband. And then you get to see her become the woman she always could have been and should have been, had she really been loved by somebody who was gentle and sweet and was meant for her.
BWW: And then, there's this added complication that this man is an imposter...
CK: She's honourable and she really tries to do the right thing and she gets swept away by her heart and I think that's the beautiful and romantic part of this story is that she gets this second chance to find love and she does and it's such a beautiful love and an unexpected kind of love and something that she thought could never be hers. Then of course the message of the show is deeper than that and what we come away with in the end is something that's quite profound and that the world is changing [the show takes place in the 16th century] and that maybe there will be a time where women do get to choose what their fate is going to be. I think that's the part that touches me the most.
BWW: The in-concert production will be at the Avon Theatre. What are some of your fondest memories of being on that stage...or at the Festival in general?
CK: Oh ya! Honest to God, I loved every...[laughs]...I say "every season" like I've been there for 10 years because I feel like I was, but really it was only three. But I mean, after three seasons, I've loved every show that I've done in both spaces, and for different reasons. Oh gosh! It's so hard to say! WEST SIDE STORY in the Festival [Theatre] was certainly special to experience. That choreography and that staging in that particular space was really amazing. And then also doing THE GRAPES OF WRATH at the Avon, and then JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and EVITA and all those...I think I have more memories of the Avon because that's where I did most of my shows. I love it. It's a perfect proscenium theatre. It's great. It's intimate. Comedy works really well there. Everything works well in that space and it's warm, and you can be close to the actors but it still feels like a big theatre. I love it. I love the backstage, I love the crew, I love everything about it!
BWW: I'm guessing rehearsals haven't started yet for THE HOUSE OF MARTIN GUERRE?
CK: No, I'm just furiously learning all the material at home by myself! (Laughs). They're fantastic. The team's given us wonderful tracks to work with. (Music Director) Laura Burton has given us (recordings) where she plays all the different parts so we can sing along at home. It's really great. They've taken a lot of time to try to make these excellent tracks for us.
BWW: Amazing! So when does everybody come together for the first time?
CK: Everybody comes together about three or four days before we perform. So we have about three days of rehearsal and then we do it!
BWW: You mentioned that you and Director Richard (Ouzounian) had talked about what show to do...Had you worked with Richard before?
CK: Yes! I worked with Richard way back in the day when they did his musical EMILY at Charlottetown and I was playing ANNE (OF GREEN GABLES) at the time and I was in EMILY as well. Then we worked together on VARIATIONS ON A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN in Barrie. I think those are the only two times we've worked together professionally, but he's always been really sweet to me, and I love his son Mikey, and they're just a lovely family, and (Richard) really cares deeply about the arts and I respect that about him.
BWW: Lastly, let's chat about some other projects you have going on. I know THE BAND'S VISIT is on tour, and your theatre company (Eclipse Theatre Company) is mounting exciting productions. You've got a lot going on!
CK: Ya! And GHOST QUARTET (A song cycle by Dave Malloy that is co-produced by Eclipse Theatre Company and Crow's Theatre) has been extended actually. It's so fun, it's great and I love partnering with Crow's. I think what they're doing at Crow's is so wonderful and interesting! I've also written a musical with one of the writers of the series 'The Good Fight',' Eric Holmes. It's called CALL IT LOVE. We've already done three readings in the NY area and a concert and we are probably going to do our first Canadian reading next year in 2020 and then we're looking to do a full production after that.
BWW: We'll be sure to keep a lookout for that and we can't wait to see your return to Stratford next week in THE HOUSE OF MARTIN GUERRE.
CK: Thank you. I'm very excited.
THE HOUSE OF MARTIN GUERRE IN CONCERT Will Play at the Avon Theatre at 8pm on Monday November 3rd. Tickets are available here: https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/WhatsOn/PlaysAndEvents/TheForum/Martin-Guerre
Directed by Richard Ouzounian
CHILINA KENNEDY as Bertrande
ADAM BRAZIER as Arnaud de Tilh
Gabriel Antonacci Soldier
Sean Arbuckle Jean de Coras
Lally Cadeau Narrator
Juan Chioran Pierre Guerre
Camille Eanga-Selenge Suzanne
Gabi Epstein Marie
Henry Firmston Martin Guerre
Evangelia Kambites Villager
Monique Lund Bernarde de Rols
Denise Oucharek Jehannot's Wife
Trevor Patt Jean Peghula
Hutton Patterson Little Sanxi
Jennifer Rider-Shaw Jeannette
Steve Ross Jehannot, François Ferrière
Vanessa Sears Catherine
Music Directors Laura Burton, Charlene Nafziger
Photo Credit: Stratford Festival
This Interview has been edited and condensed