When Kyle Coffman sings “Consider Yourself” as the Artful Dodger in Oliver at Arena Stage, the words “part of the family” hits close to home.
As a fourth-generation performer, Coffman grew up around dressing rooms and theaters and there was little doubt that he would pursue the family business, thanks to a shared love of performing.
“My great-grandparents were vaudeville performers, my father was a ballet dancer and my mom was a dancer in Vegas, so I just was always around that atmosphere, being back stage or running up and down the aisles with my sister,” he says. “I was always so inspired by what was happening on the stage and the effect it would have on people, and although I looked for other interests, I always came back to dance and performing.”
Coffman attended the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City and while there, saw a casting call for West Side Story. He tried out as a non-Equity member, and eventually landed the role of A-rab in the Broadway production.
“I went through a bunch of auditions, and was cast and it was a dream come true,” he says. “We came to DC [The National Theatre] to do our out-of-town run and it was a beautiful experience. The score and choreography are unparalleled, so it was a great one to do right out of the gate.”
Although he’ll never forget the cheers from taking his first bow on Broadway, Coffman admits that every night was an amazing experience and he never took it for granted that he was afforded the opportunity.
He’s also appeared on Broadway in the original cast of Newsies (as Henry) and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Christopher Lyon, u/s Deputy). Coffman was featured on all three cast albums and twice had the honor of performing on the Tony Awards.
“It takes a lot of hard work and preparation to get where I have, but I know that a lot of people do that. It’s also being in the right place at the right time,” he says. “It just so happened that those shows lined up at the right times. For example, West Side Story was looking for guys who looked young and were short and could dance, and I was a fit.”
Earlier this year, Coffman was approached about trying out for the Artful Dodger in Oliver at Arena Stage, and he was immediately interested. The Tony Award winning musical about an innocent orphan thrown into the dark world of double-dealing thieves and con men takes on a different form at Arena thanks to director Molly Smith who has opted for a contemporary take on the story, setting the action in 2015 London as opposed to the original 19th Century setting.
“When I found out about Molly Smith’s vision for the production, the updated version, I was very interested and it’s way gone past my expectations of what it was going to be,” he says. “She’s trying to bring what’s happening in our society to the forefront of conversation through art and it’s been amazing.”
Plus, the Artful Dodger is a character that’s long been on his list to play; in fact, he calls it a role that was tops on his dream role since he started in the business.
“It’s always been a childhood dream of mine to play the Artful Dodger, because I’ve always looked up to that character,” Coffman says. “He’s just so cool—the original talking street kid. He’s never ruffled, and there’s something about that scrappy young kid who may not have a lot, but all he truly needs is his own wit and that gumption. As an actor, I love to be able to play that.”
For Coffman, classic musicals like Oliver are part of his DNA, and remind him of all the great times he had a child, watching his family perform.
“It’s one of those Golden Age musicals that I watched all the time as a kid, and it made an impression on me and had a staying power.” he says. “Besides the recognizable and beautiful score, the story itself is timeless. That’s something that Molly is really trying to bring to life with the modernization, showing that much hasn’t changed as far as homeless children and disparity in the classes, and that there are still a lot of Olivers out there.”
While he’s primarily worked in theater, Coffman has tried his hand in film, landing a feature role in the 2012 movie, This Pain Will Be Useful. It’s a medium he wouldn’t mind pursuing more as he gets older, but for now, he’s happy on stage.
“Right now, the goal for me is to just do productions that feed me artistically,” he says. “Working with this cast in DC has really opened my eyes and made me realize it doesn’t matter where you are, it matters the show you’re doing and the intent behind the people producing and putting on the show, and I’ll keep chasing that feeling. For me, it’s all been a positive experience.”