The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Something nudged me after Louisville’s Jennifer Lawrence accepted her Oscar for best actress last night: watching a Kentucky native walk off with a major acting award was not an exotic thing to see. And no, I am not going back to George Clooney’s 2006 best supporting actor win for Syriana.
I’m just going back to last June, when Ashland’s Steve Kazee took home the Tony Award for best actor in a musical for Once.
The question I had to answer for myself before I went to bed this morning was, has any other state, aside from the usual suspects of New York and California, produced two major acting award winners in the past year? We’re talking Emmy, Tony, Oscar — I tried to find a comparable Grammy category and could not.
The answer was no, even drilling down to supporting player awards, and not even California. Now if you want to win a major acting award, being born in New York is a really good idea — particularly Manhattan. But after that, at least in 2012-13, having an old Kentucky home seemed to be as helpful as anything.
Of course, we have long known there is talent in the Bluegrass State, from the music of Loretta Lynn to the performances of the late Patricia Neal.
But what I really like about these two wins is Lawrence and Kazee probably wouldn’t have been the two performers you’d expect to create a one-two hit for Kentucky just a few years ago. Before breaking out in Winter’s Bone, then teenage Lawrence was relatively unknown. And Kazee had the chops but was struggling to find that breakout Broadway role.
It’s a nice message to send to aspiring performers across the Commonwealth: As much as we are subject to stereotypes and self-loathing, there is a rich culture here. And it is entirely possible to come from Kentucky and reach the pinnacles of artistic success, even without a last name like Judd or Clooney. Just watch the big award ceremonies.
Kentucky’s latest Broadway star can get used to reading his name written this way: Tony Award nominee Steve Kazee — it even rhymes. The Ashland native, who discovered a love for musical theater while he was a student at Morehead State University, is a nominee for best actor in a leading role in a musical for his performance in Once, the stage adaptation of the surprise hit 2006 film.
Kazee plays Guy, an Irish musician who falls in love with his musical soulmate Girl, played by Cristin Milioti. The actress’ name also came up for best actress in a leading role in a musical, making two of the 11 nominations the show received, including best musical, best direction of a musical for John Tiffany and best book of a musical for Enda Walsh.
That makes Once the top nominee this year.
On Broadway World, Kazee reflected on his and the show’s nominations: “It has been a crazy year for me and to have it culminated this way with 11 Tony nominations for the show makes me speechless. To see everyone get recognized who has worked so hard on creating this piece is just unbelievable and I’m so excited to get the theater tonight to give everyone a hug and say congratulations. It makes me so proud to be a part of something that I can call art that is also having success commercially.”
Kazee also reflected on his mother, Kathy Kazee, who died last month saying, “this nomination it a bit bittersweet since she can’t experience this with me.”
Once is closely followed by two shows with 10 nods: the Gershwin-tune-filled Nice Work if You Can Get It and The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which also has Kentucky connections. Andrea Jones-Sojola is playing the Strawberry Woman and understudies the roles of Clara and Serena. Phumzile Sojola is Peter, The Honey Man and understudies the role of Robbins. Both were prominent singers in the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre in the last decade and the Lexington-based American Spiritual Ensemble.
Porgy’s nominations include best revival of a musical and leading actor and actress in a musical for Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald in the title roles.
In addition to Lewis, Kazee’s competition includes Jeremy Jordan for Newsies and Danny Burstein and Ron Raines for Follies. So, if Kazee triumphs over that crowd, he’ll have to change that reference to “Tony Award winner Steve Kazee,” which does not rhyme as well, but that probably wouldn’t bother him.
Click here for a complete list of Tony nominees. The awards, which should feature performances from both Once and Porgy and Bess, will be at 8 p.m. June 10 on CBS, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris.
Also, Steve Kazee’s Twitter feed is well worth following.
Steve Kazee’s first Broadway lead looks to be a hit with critics whose reviews are coming in after Sunday’s opening night performance of Once, the new musical based on the surprise hit 2006 film. Kazee, who was raised in Ashland and graduated from Morehead State University, plays Guy, an Irishman who falls in love with Girl, played by Cristin Milioti, when they discover they literally make beautiful music togther.
The big kahuna of the critics, The New York Times’ Ben Brantley, said the musical’s move from Off-Broadway to Broadway had been good for the show.
” … The greater distance between stage and audience that comes with a move to a Broadway house softens the edges of its exaggeration. And what was always wonderful about “Once,” its songs and its staging, has been magnified. In the meantime its appealing stars, Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti, have only grown in presence and dimensionality,” Brantley wrote. He added that Kazee, “manages to find a soulful, quietly erotic energy in his passive character, and his singing voice shifts by stealthy degrees from tuneful plaintiveness to howling pain.”
The Associated Press’ Mark Kennedy wrote that Once, “is a study in how to beautifully adapt a movie to the stage. In many ways, in fact, this Once is better than the original Once.” He added, “Kazee adopts a convincing Irish accent and he has a great voice, especially when he strains with emotion. He’s pretty good looking, too, in just jeans, an undershirt and a vest.”
The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones also called it a textbook example of taking a story from film to stage and said Once is a rare wise musical.
“Once offers a rush of new understanding of how those who succeed in life and love often do so because an unselfish someone either talked them into getting out of bed in the morning or removed some great boulder lying in the way. Kazee and Milioti … are so precise and specific to a particular time and place that they become potent representatives of every moment of the heart in every stubborn locale.”
Forbes’ Roger Friedman called the show “a knockout,” the likely winner of the Tony Award for best musical and a star maker.
“Ready for his walk of fame for a long time, I’d say, is Steve Kazee … Kazee plays guitar and sings like a legitimate rock star. He reminded me less of Bono than of another Irish folk rocker, Luka Bloom. And Kazee–who told me after the show that he’s played guitar since age 12–comes from Kentucky. How does he come by such a good stage accent? “I just slip into it,” he says with a shrug.”
Kentucky native Steve Kazee has enjoyed modest success on and off Broadway since he discovered acting when he was a student at Morehead State University in the mid-1990s. His turns have included starring opposite Audra McDonald in Roundabout Theatre’s revival of 110 in the Shade and replacing Hank Azaria as Lancelot in Spamalot.
Sunday (March 18) will be the biggest night of Kazee’s career as he takes the stage of Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York as the lead in Once, a new musical based on the 2006 movie that boasted the Oscar-winning song Falling Slowly. The show tells the story of an Irish musician and Czech immigrant drawn into a complicated relationship by their mutual love of music. The film was adapted to the stage by playwright Enda Walsh and the original Once musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová.
The latest evidence of Kazee’s rising star is he was featured in Sunday’s New York Times Style magazine sporting polka dots – of course, very fashionable, stylish polka dots.
But you need look no further than Kazee’s Twitter account to see he is still in touch with his old Kentucky home. Following Sunday’s loss in the SEC Championship game, he tweeted: “I am actually happy UK lost. Need to get their damn heads out of their asses and play like the beasts they are. Number 1 ain’t s—.”
Here’s hoping Kazee has a great weekend in a variety of ways.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich