© Joan Marcus/Special to The Guardian
Chilina Kennedy appears as Carole King in “Beautiful, the Carole King Musical” on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theater in New York City.
Actress Chilina Kennedy has felt the earth move under her feet several times in the past year.
That’s because the Canadian actress has experienced some ground-shaking opportunities in connection with the lead role in “Beautiful, the Carole King Musical” currently playing at the Stephen Sondheim Theater in New York City.
“It’s incredible. It’s truly a dream come true. And I’m not exaggerating. It’s simply the best job in the world,” says Kennedy, who has been in the Broadway show since last April and who is well known to P.E.I. audiences for her portrayal of the Evangeline in the premiere of Ted Dykstra’s epic musical in 2013 at Confederation Centre of the Arts.
Filled with numbers from the legendary singer-songwriter’s song book, including It’s Too Late, You’ve Got a Friend and Will You Love Me Tomorrow, this Broadway musical tells the story of Carole King and her remarkable rise to stardom, from being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband, Gerry Goffin, to her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, to becoming one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history. It also tells about her personal life, the highs and the heartbreaks.
Besides the applause and standing ovations the show gets nightly, the earth most recently moved for Kennedy when she was invited to anchor and narrate the Kennedy Centre Honours for Carole King broadcast on CBS, Dec. 29.
The event, which took place in Washington, D.C., was attended by some of the world’s top performers, producers and directors, as well as the president and first lady of the United States.
“Obviously, there was a lot of pressure because I wanted to do justice to Carole’s career and her life. But, it was incredible. It was one of the most incredible artistic experiences of my life, so far,” says Kennedy,
As an anchor, it was her job to introduce another musical icon who sang King’s hit song, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.
“A lot of the guest stars were surprises. The honouree gives the Kennedy Center a wish list of people that they would love to see perform. And whoever comes is a surprise.
“So when I announced Aretha Franklin, the house went wild. They weren’t expecting that. Her performance was outstanding. So it was kind of the big moment of the evening.”
Then, if that wasn’t enough excitement, Kennedy was invited to join James Taylor and Franklin on stage in the closing number, I Feel the Earth Move.
“I was just so incredibly honoured to have a solo alongside these incredible artists. To introduce Franklin was amazing. Then, to be able to stand beside her and riff with her was incredible.”
Adam Brazier, who played opposite to Kennedy as Gabriel in the 2013 production of “Evangeline”, is not surprised at her recent performance gigs.
“Chilina is a rare talent that is both vulnerable and fearless. She has the capacity to sing any score but, more importantly, she has the ability to think through any role. From Maria in “West Side Story” to Evita, from Evangeline to Carol King, Chilina Kennedy will excel,” says Brazier, artistic director, Confederation Centre of the Arts.
Another amazing experience for Kennedy was getting to meet the music icon.
“I got an email from Carol King last April. She said, ‘Do you want me to tell you when I’m coming to see the show?’ I wrote back, ‘Dear Miss King: please do not tell me when you’re coming because I will fall over from a heart attack’,” says Kennedy, with a laugh.
King respected the actor’s wishes, only indicating that she would be coming sometime that month.
“She dressed up in a wig and glasses and surprised us. And she was fantastic. I also saw her multiple times after that because we did a television interviews and performance for the Today Show and there were rehearsals.
“Then, of course, I spoke with her after the Kennedy Center Honours event. That night we had dinner at the Kennedy Center, so we got to talk to her then. She’s really a wonderful woman.”
Actress fast facts
- Who: Chilina Kennedy.
- From: Oromucto, N.B.
- Previous Broadway credit: Mary Magdalene in “Jesus Christ Superstar”.
- Charlottetown Festival credits: Title role in Evangeline in 2013; Anne Shirley in “Anne of Green Gables” in 2000-2001.
- Next Canadian gig: Performing at the Canadian Screen awards in March. The show will be broadcast on CBC-TV on March 13.
- Thoughts about work: “My favourite kind of theatre is where, as an audience member, I feel like you’re peering into a private world, a window into a world that’s not yours. I think I’ve had a chance to create a lot of that kind of theatre.”