Broadway performer from Langley celebrates music icons

The prolific Broadway duo of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II served as a huge influence for Langley’s own Kaylee Harwood, who recently returned to the Lower Mainland to participate in a tribute revue for the two men.

Without question – Rodgers & Hammerstein made up one of the most influential writing teams of the 20th century. They created such celebrated musicals as Oklahoma!, The King & I, South Pacific, Carousel, and Sound of Music.

And it was the work of this pair that helped guide the former Langley Fine Arts School and Trinity Western University student into a career on stage.

In fact, the 27-year-old Murrayville native, who still hangs her hat at her folks place in Murrayville when she’s in town, credits them with playing an enormous role in her growth as an actor.

So from the stages of Broadway, where she starred in the Tony-nominated revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, Harwood is back home this month as part of the five-member cast starring in a Vancouver revue called Rodgers & Hammerstein: Out of a Dream.

Harwood said she’s psyched to be taking the audience on a nostalgic journey through Rodgers & Hammerstien’s legendary Broadway songbook.

Taking the form of a revue, this production eschews strict narrative and instead thematically floats between songs and scenes in a whimsical tribute to the musical treasures.

This production premiered earlier this month on the stage of the new York Theatre on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, and concludes Sunday, Feb. 16.

Tickets are $19 and available online at tickets.theclutch.com or by phone at 604-251-1363.

 

Question & Answer

In a question and answer sequence, Harwood explains her involvement in theatre, and this current musical production.

Q. When did you audition, and what made you decide to audition for this part in particular?

A. With such a small cast, I’m guessing that Peter Jorgensen, our director for Out of a Dream, and artistic director of Patrick Street Productions, the presenting company, assembled a group he was mostly familiar with already.

Peter and I have worked together in different capacities over the years – e.g. in 2009 we played Higgins and Eliza opposite each other in My Fair Lady (Western Canada Theatre, Kamloops). So, we already have that working relationship. I was asked about the production back in the fall and I’m so glad it worked out to come home to perform in such a lovely show.

Q. How has the production gone so far, how is the audience reacting? Have you made changes in your own performance based on audience reaction, and if so, please elaborate?

A. It’s going so well. We had audience members swinging their arms like cowboys (yippee-yi!) along with us during our curtain-call encore last night. It’s a swooningly romantic and terrifically funny piece with some of the best voices you’ll hear on incredibly lush arrangements.

Q. Do you play one character, none at all, or many roles. I’m not sure how this tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein is presented – as a musical theatre or more of as a tribute.

A. It’s classified as a musical revue. With five performers, you’ll see every combination of solos, groups, and partners between us and some wonderful re-imaginings/gender-bendings of famous and lesser-known Rodgers and Hammerstein material.

There isn’t a strict narrative through-line, but themes woven between the songs exploring various facets of love (romance, friendship, new love, mature love, jealousy, obstacles, etc).

I have found great inspiration and context for so many of the songs in my own life, so I fancy I’m playing myself.

In the script, my part has been named Kaylee (a first for me!). We joke backstage about who is going to play Kaylee (or Warren, or Sayer, etc) when the show moves to Broadway.

Q. Are you doing strictly musical theatre or other plays, dance performances, vocal presentations?

A. I feel fortunate to do all sorts.

I also choreograph – just worked on a production of Much Ado About Nothing that runs at my alma mater (Trinity Western University) next month.

Besides established musicals and plays, I love working on new work.

Before coming out to B.C. a few weeks ago, I was part of a brand new Canadian musical based on a Chekhov short story that ran at the Next Stage Festival in Toronto, sort of like a Winter Fringe Festival.

Very fun vibe. Quick and dirty and wholly collaborative.

Last season I was doing a musical and a play at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario for six months, and I’m happy to say I’m returning for a second and even longer season as soon as this closes.

Q. With this show wrapping up this weekend, are you already working on something new?

A. I take off back to Niagara-on-the-Lake to begin rehearsals immediately after closing. I’m going to be in the musical Cabaret and a Tennessee Williams one-act play, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur.  

Q. Are you able to work full-time on your art, or do you have to hold down a full or part-time job to pay the bills? If so, what is it, and where?

A.  I am very fortunate that my artistic endeavours have so far sustained me.

I live and travel on the cheap and make it work.

I’ve also taught and choreographed and done concerts and workshops of new material.

Q. Why should people come and catch this show?

A. I am honoured to share the stage with such immensely talented singers and musicians, not to mention working on such heartbreaking, transporting material.

This team wrote 11 musicals, of which about five or six made it huge.

So, people can be prepared to hear their favourites alongside newbies.

Those who don’t know Rodgers and Hammerstein are in for a wonderful introduction.

Those who do know R&H can prepare to hear them absolutely honoured and yet in an entirely new light.

Hearing these songs out of context and yet back to back with each other reminds me every day how cutting-edge and raw these seemingly dusty, old-fashioned (to us, now) creators were.

Without wanting to give anything away, I think Peter’s contextualization offer new meaning for some old gems.

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