SCINTILLATING SUMMER MUSICAL SCENE STEALERS:
Kevin Girard Bender, Kristen Zwobot, Hope MacDonald, Zachary Conneen
As summer comes to a close, here are four memorable scene stealing musical performances by local young and talented performers.
I was introduced to the gorgeous voice of Kevin Girard Bender when I attended opening night of Zanna, Don’t at Kensington Arts Theatre (KAT)on May 16th. When the opening number began, Kevin’s microphone wasn’t on, and I quickly ran to let the tech people know his mic was off. Two local critics were attending the show, and I felt sorry for this “new kid” who was starring in the lead. Kevin was a pro, and he just kept playing his role and singing his song until he slid to the side of the stage, and someone fixed his mic. Composer Tim Acito, who was kind enough to do an interview with me to help the KAT production, would have smiled after hearing Kevin’s heartbreaking rendition of “Someday You Might Love Me.”
When James Howard, a critic for the Baltimore area for BroadwayWorld) emailed me to tell me he was directing Bare: The Musical at The Baltimore Theatre Project, he also told me that Kevin Girard Bender was playing Peter. I immediately accepted his invitation to come and see the show, because I had to see Kevin Girard Bender perform once again.
When I took my seat on Sunday, August 31st at the 2 PM matinee, I said hello to the very friendly couple who were to my right. They turned out to be Kevin’s parents, who told me that they had seen the show several times, and had brought a slew of friends to see today’s matinee. What a joy to watch them beam, applaud and cheer for their son as Kevin and the young and super-talented cast performed Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo’s vocally challenging rock opera. I heard harmonies that day that were simply divine.
As the ever-suffering Peter, whose love of his life – Jason – wants to keep their love hidden, Kevin sang beautifully. His performance was honest, under-stated and very effective. It would have been very easy to play Peter over-the-top, but Kevin didn’t take the easy way out. Nothing showed the honesty more than his rendition of “Role of a Lifetime.”
I asked Kevin to set up the song for me, and to talk about playing both Zanna and Peter, two characters who faced similar issues.
“Role of a Lifetime” is a very complicated song. Peter is frustrated that his secret boyfriend of three years, Jason, is resisting his urges to be honest and open about their relationship. In “Role of a Lifetime,” Peter negotiates his own feelings about his first love, Jason, but also questions his morals and relationship with God. Peter explores his true, honest feelings, yet also expresses serious frustration towards the judgmental world which surrounds and confines him. Peter is a very honest young boy who has incredible strength of character. He above all is honest with himself, which is something many people, young and old, struggle to do. As he navigates precarious relationships with Jason, his mother, and the church, he consistently rejects superficial answers that attempt to sweep his fears, emotions, and desires under the rug.”
And when Kevin sang these heartbreaking lyrics, I could remember being in the same situation, and those difficult memories flooded my mind:
“So confused because I feel complete with you.
When we’re alone it all somehow makes sense.
Look into his eyes for some compromise
Remember the word, forget
And try to bury something so intense…”
“Zanna was a completely different role to play. Zanna also has insecurities, though he tends to gloss them over with a cocky smile and swagger. Both Peter and Zanna negotiate the terrible fear and discomfort of simply being different, and both boldly confront the same unanswered question, “Will I be loved?” Both characters struggle to be true to themselves, and both end up being completely honest with themselves and with society.”
Boy, could I relate to Kristen Zwobot lamenting scene stealing “A Quiet Night At Home.” There were dozens of times where, after being surrounded by dozens of people and friends at an Ushers‘ event for seven hours, I used to come home alone to an empty house and bed. So when Kristen Zwobo sang these lyrics, my heart ached for her:
“A quiet night at home
All my friends are gone
and once again I find myself alone
a quiet night at home
just me and my good Shepard
He and I Can count a million sheep
a quiet night at home
filling up that time
till finally I get to sleep”
As Nadia, the zaftig (pudgy) sister with the big heart and sharp tongue, Kristen burned up the stage not only with this song, but with her fiery rendition of “Birthday Bitch!” A natural comedienne, as well as a fabulous singer, Nadia stole the show from “the boys,” and had the audience in stitches and cheering for her.
Last year Kristen was a dilly as Pickles, a loony, emotional gal who was prone to hysterical pregnancies at Spotlighters. And here at Bare:The Musical, she proved once more that hysterical rocks!
As the sassy and brassy Reno Sweeney, in Act Two’s production of Anything Goes, Hope MacDonald blew the roof off Churchill High School, as she belted Cole Porter’s trumpet blaring, toe-tapping, hand clapping, sin confessing “Blow, Gabriel, Blow!”
Not only did Hope sing the heck out of “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Anything Goes” and “Friendship,” but she tapped her way into the hearts of the wildly applauding audience. According to her bio on www.actwo.org , Hope “has been dancing since she could walk.” Hope is a sophomore at Northern Virginia Community College, and is teaching jazz dance classes at Act Two. She studied tap, jazz, ballet, and hip hop at Buffa’s Dance Studio and Center Stage Dance Studio. She has choreographed over eighteen musicals. Hopee won a Cappie Award for Best Female Dancer in the National Capital Area in 2005, as well as a nomination for Best Choreography. She also received Cappie nominations for Best Female Dancer and Best Choreography in 2007. I have great hope that we will see Hope performing on our local stages for a long time, and teaching the tappers of the future at Act Two.
As the very assertive and kind-hearted Greyleg the goose, who takes personal charge of Ugly – the misunderstood and loudly honking swan, 9 1/2 year old Zachary Conneen was a hoot! It was “goose love at first sight” when Zachary and his family flock of geese flew onto the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre Stage. Dressed in his military garb, and goggles, Zachary goose-stepped into his role so convincingly, and his British accent was perfection. When he led The Wild Goose Chase song at the end of the first act, you could see a young actor who had the stage presence and maturity of a veteran actor. And most important, you could see that Zachary was having a great time and the audience responded with loud cheers and honks. He was simply adorable! It was nice to see so many of the young members flocking to Zachary in the lobby after the show to get his autograph. I was one of them.
Honk! was Zachary’s fourth show with MTC. He was a Wickersham Brother in Seussical (which I named one of the Best Musicals of 2007), Michael Darling in Peter Pan, and a thespian and skater dude in High School Musical. He has also played the role of The Emperor in The Emperor’s New Clothes with his school’s drama department, was a member of the ensemble of Bye Bye Birdie with Act Two and has done some commercial work for television. I can’t wait to see him in his next show!