Broadway Talks Back, Thanks to Kristen Kelly (Commerce ‘20)
Second-year Kristen Kelly is a self-described Broadway super-fan. She saw the Tony-nominated, Sara Bareilles-penned musical Waitress five times last year. Yet it is a lesson from another show that has allowed her to launch her passion for theater into a dynamic program that is bringing the magic of Broadway to Grounds. Kelly has proven time and time again that she knows a thing or two about not throwing away her shot, like Hamilton. On her regular visits, Kelly has not only cheered her favorite stars on stage, she has gotten to know them offstage as well. She has parlayed stage door chats and social media pings into personal connections that have been integral to Broadway Talks Back, a program she founded through her a cappella group Hoos in the Stairwell, that has brought the stories of some of the biggest stars of the Great White Way to students on Grounds. “I met Henry B. Gottfried from Waitress,” Kelly said, “and I told him about my idea of having actors connect with UVA students through virtual visits on Skype where they could share their career stories. He loved the idea!” That bit of success inspired Kelly to reach out to others through social media. She got another enthusiastic response from Waitress star Drew Gehling, who, it turns out, was an “almost-Hoo,” having applied and been accepted before choosing Carnegie Mellon. Gehling was excited about returning to UVA, and offered a backstage interview to Kelly on one of her visits.
Mandy Gonzalez on UVA Broadway Talks Back, 2018, HoosInTheStairwell
Mandy Gonzalez, now starring as one of Hamilton’s Schuyler Sisters and formerly featured in the Tony Award-winning In the Heights, taped a talk for the students as well. This early success had Kelly dreaming a little bigger and envisioning these stars sharing their tales and talents in person. She began tirelessly seeking monetary support for the program, and secured funding from the Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts, among others. Gehling was the first visitor, coming to Grounds last November to give a talk, as well as offering a master class that covered both theatre and a capella. He was followed in February by Henry B. Gottfried, also from the Waitress cast and National Tour of Bright Star, whose appearance included stories of his theatrical journey and tales from his days as a member of Yale’s famed Whiffenpoofs. Kelly is currently working vigorously on securing upcoming guests, constantly expanding her digital rolodex of Broadway stars, and finding an even greater level of interest in and enthusiasm for the project. “The craziest thing for me is these actors are so responsive to my program,” she said. “It takes almost no convincing to show them the value they would bring to UVA. I think the performers see that this is something being put on by students for students in support of the arts, and they really appreciate it.” She was particularly and pleasantly surprised when she received a message from some members of the cast of the national touring company of Les Misérables. “They said they had Googled our program and watched some of our interviews online, and wanted to see if we might be interested in going to see their show in Norfolk, get a backstage tour and do an interview. It was amazing! This program has opened so many doors, sometimes I can’t even believe it.” In April, she hosted Ryan Vasquez, a current Hamilton Broadway Cast Member in the Rotunda Dome Room. At only 25, he is the youngest actor to play Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton-an unbelievable accomplishment! The program has finished its first incredible year with a plethora of awe-inspiring actors. As for the future, there are plenty more doors to knock on, and Kelly has feelers out to a number of actors and shows, and dreams of hosting a member of the original Broadway cast of Hamilton. Not throwing away her shot, indeed!