Entertainment

Langley actress heads to Broadway

Kaylee Harwood as Guenevere (centre) with Monique Lund (left) and Mary Antonini in Camelot. - Photo courtesy of David Hou
Kaylee Harwood as Guenevere (centre) with Monique Lund (left) and Mary Antonini in Camelot.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of David Hou

She’s played all the great leading ladies, from My Fair Lady’s Eliza Doolittle, to Cosette in Les Miserables, Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, and, of course, Gertrude McFuzz in Carousel Theatre’s production of Seussical.

Now, after spending the summer of 2011 performing as Guenevere — the Arthurian queen torn between two lovers — in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s acclaimed production of Camelot, and singing in the chorus of Jesus Christ Superstar, Kaylee Harwood’s acting career is about to take another giant and rather unexpected leap forward — this one, onto the boards of the Great White Way.

The Ontario theatre company’s production of  Jesus Christ Superstar is headed for Broadway in an opened-ended run scheduled to begin next month, and the Langley actress and singer will be centre stage when it happens.

Before leaving for Stratford last year, Harwood said the opportunity to perform at the famous Shakespeare Festival was a goal she had set for herself early in her career.

Looking back, 10 months later, the actress acknowleded the experience was everything that she could have hoped.

Even after having performed on stages around the Greater Vancouver area and Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, Stratford was a revelation, the 25-year-old admitted.

Entering the thrust stage through the vomitory (yes, really) — a tunnel that begins beneath the audience and rises to stage level — Harwood would begin each performance of Camelot with her back to the audience of 1,800.

“To turn and see this sea of people always took my breath away. It never ceased to make my heart stop,” she said.

But with that “extraordinary” experience now under her belt, she is once again looking ahead toward her next adventure.

After closing at Stratford, Jesus Christ Superstar enjoyed a five-week run at the La Jolla Playhouse near San Diego over Christmas and the New Year.

Throughout the fall of 2011, speculation went into overdrive about what might come next for the show, she said.

“There were so many rumours going around, we might as well have been going to Mars,” Harwood laughed.

Finally, in October, the official word came: Jesus Christ Superstar was moving to Broadway — the 1,450 seat Neil Simon Theater to be exact.

Asked how the opportunity to perform on Broadway arose, Harwood laughed and replied: “I wish I knew.”

Perhaps it was no coincidence that Andrew Lloyd Webber, who composed the music for the famous rock opera, and Tim Rice, who penned the lyrics, attended a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar at Stratford last summer, though the cast was unaware of their presence during the performance.

“We only learned about it after the curtain call,” she said.

However it came about, the move to Broadway is “kind of unprecedented,” said Harwood.

“It’s a feat for an almost entirely Canadian cast that originally performed (a show) in Canada.”

Des McAnuff — the man behind The Who’s Tommy and Jersey Boys — directed the Stratford production and his connections in the business were no doubt key, but Harwood is prepared to give much of the credit to the “incredible calibre” of the production itself.

Using words like “grey and stark, electric and pulsing,” Harwood contrasted Jesus Christ Superstar to the production of Camelot, which she described as “very human, very compelling. Warm and delightful, full of light and laughter.”

Sarah — Harwood’s character,  though her name is never mentioned — is a much smaller role than Guenevere, and though the performer works and dances her butt off, the fact she doesn’t have to carry the show will allow for a bit more balance in her life. She’ll use that time to take in all that the city that never sleeps has to offer.

Harwood, who describes herself as an accomplished second hand shopper, has been working out a budget of her fixed expenses — rent, utilities and transportation.

She’s also included a bit of extra so that she can really appreciate her time in New York and perhaps take in a few productions herself.

“In Vancouver, there’s an industry rate on most shows,” she said. “I’m not sure if Broadway has that, but it would be a nice perk of the job,” she smiled.

After finding a six month sublet for an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, she will have a little more than a month to settle in and rehearse before the show opens on March 22 and runs until whenever.

Beyond that, well, she hasn’t given it a lot of thought.

“I haven’t set any new long term goals,” Harwood said. “There are places I’d like to travel and shows I’d like to be involved in, but I’ve been so lucky.

“I like following the current.”

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