Currently playing Binky in This Ain’t No Disco, Canadian actress Chilina Kennedy made her Broadway debut as Mary Magdalene in Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Critically acclaimed for playing Carole King in Beautiful for three years, Chilina is also the Artistic Producer of Toronto’s Eclipse Theatre Company and has a debut album titled What You Find In A Bottle
We managed to get some time with Chilina to talk about rescuing animals and working out of town.
How did you get into performing, was there a particular performance you saw that resonated with you?
Yes! I saw CATS on Broadway when I was about 14. Also, I saw a production of Les Miserables when I was a little older – maybe 15. I was so inspired by both of these productions and also by my wonderful arts teachers. I had fabulous dance and vocal training by people who had been professionals in the business and loved what they did. I also practiced with kids who were excited about what we were creating together and who were just as passionate as I was.
What has been your favourite role you have played and why?
It’s hard to pick a favourite role but the top three have been Carole King in Beautiful on Broadway, Maria in West Side Story at the Stratford Festival of Canada – directed by the amazing Gary Griffin and starring with Paul Nolan, and Pheobe in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder at Hartford and San Diego, directed by Darko Tresnjak. Part of the joy of playing these parts have been the roles themselves and part of the joy is working with an incredible team of creators and actors.
Can you tell us about your current show This Ain’t No Disco what is it all about and what drew you to the role?
I love Binky for many reasons. She is a survivor and full of New York grit. I get to sing great songs and the creative team involved in this project is any actor’s dream come true, from our Tony Award winning director Darko Tresnjak to composers Stephen Trask and Peter Yanowitz. I also get to work with actors whom I respect tremendously, such as Theo Stockman and Will Connolly.
You performed as Carole King in Beautiful was it challenging to play a real person?
Yes, it has been quite challenging to play Carole. I am a big fan of her music and she is an icon for many people. Her music helped define an era and playing her carries a great responsibility. It felt important to me to be accurate in depicting her while also making the part my own. It has been one of the greatest challenges and joys of my career.
You are going to be in A Sign Of The Times next can you tell us about the show?
Yes! I am thrilled to be tackling this next project. It is a show about a very important time in America – feminism in the ‘60’s, the civil rights’ movement and what it meant to be a young, single woman in New York City. The music is fabulous, and the message of the show is important and relevant to what we are facing today.
What are the challenges of performing out of town with shows?
I’m fascinated by the differences in audiences’ taste and reactions. Something may work brilliantly in La Jolla, California and flop in NYC. Or something may be funny in DC and not get a reaction elsewhere. You just never know what people are going to love until you try it out. But for the most part, good theatre is good theatre and you can’t beat a powerful story and great music.
Where has been your favourite place to perform on stage and why?
I love the Sondheim Theater here in NY. It is intimate and welcoming with just the right number of seats. I also have a love affair with the Stratford Festival of Canada. All of their theatres have a rich history, beautiful stages and wonderful people running them.
What is the most rewarding thing about your work?
The best part of my work is originating new material, like I’m doing now in This Ain’t No Disco. It is an honor to be trusted with someone’s creative baby. Getting to put my own stamp on a role is a gift and something I cherish deeply.
What’s been a funny moment for you on stage? Any mishaps you want to share!?
I’ve had many!! One of the best was when I was doing Little Shop of Horrors and the guy (now a friend of mine) who was playing the plant Audrey 2 had to spend a good deal of time cooped up in the big plant puppet. He fell asleep one night and didn’t move when the plant started speaking and singing. He didn’t wake up until we were well into one of his scenes and he suddenly jerked awake in a very dramatic and funny way. The rest of us onstage had a hard time keeping it together.
Do you plan to release more music?
I have written a song cycle based on a lot of the music from that album. There is also new material going into the show and we are reimagining a lot of the tunes from the album. We are doing a reading and a concert of the show, starring Tony Award nominee Jenn Colella in early September. I do hope to write more music and release another album when I find myself with a little more time in the fall.
If you hadn’t have been an actor what would you be doing?
I would be rescuing animals and rehabilitating them.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love spending time with my son Henry and our dog Molly. I am the Artistic Producer of recently launched Eclipse Theatre Company in Toronto, Canada, so that keeps me very busy.
Who are your influences and inspirations?
I love the 60’s and ‘70’s. Artists like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, Carole King and James Taylor inspire me tremendously. I am nostalgic for a time when the making of music felt more collaborative. When life seemed much more simple.
What’s your go to song for auditions or just singing in the shower?
I love The Beatles’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand – but the Across The Universe version of the tune. It’s a classic song and a wonderfully fresh interpretation of it.
Is there a role regardless of gender you would love to play in a musical?
I want to play Guenevere in Camelot. I have been in the Ensemble and directed the show, but I haven’t played her majesty…yet.
Where can people follow your work on Twitter/Facebook/YouTube etc?