Whether sashaying across the stage in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, dancing ballet in An American in Paris or doing the can-can in the upcoming Moulin Rouge!, Kyle Brown has been a part of some of the biggest shows on Broadway. We sat down to talk about a life in the theatre, navigating the off-and-on nature of show business, and of course, what it’s like to be a part of the upcoming Moulin Rouge! on Broadway.
Wicked, a show you’ve been a part of, just celebrated its 15th anniversary. For so many people aspiring to work in theatre today, Wicked was one of the shows that made them want to be in the business. What was that show for you?
Interestingly enough, I went to a boarding school for the performing arts and going into our senior year, our summer reading was “Wicked.” That was the summer before it opened on Broadway. When I heard it was going to be a musical, I knew I had to see it. Cut to me being the kid who saw the show 15 times. I was obsessed with Wicked. When I moved to the city, I auditioned for it and didn’t get it. It was years later that I auditioned for the tour and booked it. I remember the first time going on, I was one of the guards who falls when Elphaba goes up in the air singing “Defying Gravity,” and I cried on stage because it was a true dream come true.
Let’s go back to before you were working in the industry. What brought you to the city?
Going to that boarding school opened my eyes to musical theatre colleges and one of them was University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. People who’d gone through that program really inspired me so I auditioned thinking I wouldn’t get in because they don’t accept many kids. But me and my best friend both got in. After that, the conservatory programs really set you up to move to the city so we had our senior showcase and I was able to get an agent from that.
I was very lucky when I moved to the city. I had my Equity card from doing summer stock during college and when I got here, they needed an emergency replacement for the Legally Blonde tour because the swing dance captain was injured. So I went in for that. I did the audition for Jerry Mitchell and afterward, I got a phone call asking me to do the show on Broadway instead. So it was such a weird way to get my first Broadway show because I didn’t think that was what I was even auditioning for.
Talk to me about that first Broadway bow.
It’s overwhelming. It was at The Palace Theater which, up until Anastasia, was the only theater I’d worked in on Broadway. This is so cheesy but I get teary eyed just thinking about that bow. As a little theatre kid, you may already be on the outside of things, an outsider, and you have these dreams and aspirations but you never know if they are going to come true. I remember when I called my mom to tell her I got the job. I went to Central Park so I could be by myself for a moment and we both cried on the phone together.
She was there at that first show. I came out on stage for my first entrance and saw her in the third row. My entrance was a line and I completely blanked on it because all I could see was her beaming face. It felt like an hour of silence but it was maybe three seconds.
You mentioned theatre kids maybe being on the outside of things? Did you feel that way as a kid?
Oh yeah. I grew up in upstate New York and being gay and in theatre, though it’s more accepted now, it wasn’t then. We didn’t grow up in that era. But I come from a family of six and my brothers and sisters took care of me at school if I was ever picked on. Still, that’s why going to the boarding school, Walnut Hill, in Boston was a truly liberating experience. All of the sudden, I went from kind of afraid to be who I was to being the kid who was pushed to be who I was. It was the most freeing experience you could imagine.
Let’s switch gears and talk about the next show at The Palace in which you performed: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I know fitness is a big part of your life and there was no hiding it in that show. I mean, you wore…
Right. Barely there costumes. Was fitness always something you were naturally inclined to?
No. I was always a dancer so I didn’t necessarily have to work for being slender but in college we did a production of The Full Monty and doing that show pushed me to put on some muscle. From there, I’ve built it into my life. For me as a dancer, it’s important to maintain flexibility as well as building strength so I still have my lines.
How exactly have you built it into your life?
I take one day off a week but other than that, I’m at the gym every day. I think of it as a warm-up for my show to get my body moving. I’ve been taking a lot of Barry’s Bootcamp because I got into it while we were doing Moulin Rouge in Boston.
Is there a pressure to look a certain way to book parts?
Not at all. Especially with Moulin Rouge. That show is embracing people of all shapes and sizes in our cast and that’s why I love it so much. It is so far from the cookie-cutter musical. There’s a person anyone can relate to within our company. Also, as a performer in this particular show, you don’t feel like you’re there just to fill the chorus. You feel like you’re there because of you; that you are special. I felt that way with Priscilla as well. I felt like I was hired for what I brought to that table, not what I brought to the chorus.
Let’s talk about that; about what you bring to the table. How do you challenge yourself to grow as an artist?
It’s specific to the project. Moulin Rouge requires a lot of strength and stamina. It’s a very grounded dance style. When I was doing An American In Paris, it was all ballet. I had to take class at least three times a week just to maintain that aspect of it. It may have been the hardest things I’ve ever done just because it was straight up ballet. I’m a dancer but I’m not a ballet school dancer so the people I was on stage with who came from those ballet companies inspired me. I don’t accept when people tell me I can’t do something. I have to prove I can when someone tells me I can’t. That’s always pushed me to pursue what I want and work to get what I want.
Currently, you’re in the cast of Anastasia. You understudy the part of Dmitry, so tell me how your process differs when you’re preparing for that track as opposed to your regular track.
Since the show’s been open for so long, going on for my track is the routine, but when I go on for Dmitry, which isn’t that often, I have to put on my thinking cap. That’s something I’m not attuned to. I got to go on six times in a row last weekend and that was super helpful. I realized it wasn’t so much about what I have to do as much as it’s about my interactions with other people. As understudies, you’re used to doing it with the other people who understudy parts, not the people who do it on stage every night. That’s a completely different experience. Those people who do it every night have their show they’re used to doing just like I have my show I’m used to doing every night in my ensemble track. You have to figure out how you fit into that and make sure you pay homage to the show they’re used to. By the end of the sixth show, I totally got it.
There’s a different type of fandom with Anastasia than with some other shows, wouldn’t you say?
Yes. They’re very sweet to me, thankfully. Our fans are super kind to all of the understudies. I think the demographic is mostly young girls between 13-17 and they just love the show. To have such a strong woman at the head of it like Christy [Altomare] and to see the way she interacts with everyone at the stage door, I think she’s a good ambassador for our show and the fans.
Alright, let’s talk Moulin Rouge in as much as we can.
When I saw the movie, I was already into theatre and I always said, if that show ever comes to Broadway, I have to be in it. It goes back to what I said earlier about setting a goal and making it happen. The fact that I get to be in this show is the most exciting thing to begin with. Second, I was surprised by the choreography and how much it varies from number to number; the amount of styles we get to tackle. That makes it really fun for us because it’s not the same thing the entire show. Then, the company of people I’m surrounded by on stage is so special. It’s truly a great group to work with and everyone on stage is freakishly talented. Oh, and to get to play on that set? When we first saw the set, we all just started crying. To be a performer in this show is so exciting.
Do you read reviews?
When you’re in a show, do you have a barometer of if you’re in something that’s good or not?
Yes. Here’s the thing, as an actor, you’re creating art which is subjective. We didn’t know how people were going to react to Moulin Rouge. You get so lost in the rehearsal process and the world you’re creating that you don’t know how people are going to react. All you can ask for is how the audience reacts at the end of the show. Even if that’s not the reaction, you still have to do the show. Anastasia didn’t get great reviews and it’s still going. It doesn’t matter. People love the show and we have a story to tell them. You just have to do your job and trust in what you’ve created.
You’ve been at this a long time. How do you deal with the grind of being a performer?
It’s a tough business. I think the best advice is to have good people in your life who you can talk and vent to. You have to have people you can lean on because it is a rough ride. Coming back to this, working out is a good thing for me to empty my headspace. I can get out any aggression or frustration but it also just makes me feel good. Getting out of the city helps too because not only is the grind the business, but it’s also the place where the business is.
All in all, are you happy?
Oh yeah. I feel very lucky and very fortunate. I have a great career, a great relationship, a great family and great health. What more could I ask for really?
Interview by Ryan Brinson
Photography by Christopher Boudewyns