"Let it Go" With Kevin Massey
July 6, 2018
Outside the Benedum Center stage door on a Tuesday night, Kevin Massey bends down to talk to a little boy dressed in knickers and a jacket, complete with a newsboy’s cap, an outfit so time-period perfect for Titanic that it could have been taken from the Pittsburgh CLO costume department. Massey, in black pants, a grey t-shirt, and sneakers with a black drawstring bag on his back, talks intently with the excited boy before straightening and going over to talk with his parents who have flown in to see him in Pittsburgh CLO’s production of Titanic.
Massey played Harold Bride in Titanic, which recently finished its run at the Benedum Center. Maury Yeston and Peter Stone’s Tony Award-winning musical tells the story of real-life people who were onboard the RMS Titanic as either passenger or crew members. Massey’s Bride was one of two telegraphers on board, though he is the only one portrayed in the musical. The nine-day run ended this past Sunday.
As Bride, Massey sang the beautiful duet “The Proposal/The Night Was Alive” where Bride’s character was truly developed. “The Proposal” portion was sung by Frederick Barrett, a young stoker on the ship played by CLO veteran Chris Peluso. Massey sang “The Night was Alive” which gave insight into Bride, a shy young man who found that he could more easily develop relationships with people over telegraphs than in person.
Massey sat at his telegraphy table, headphones covering his ears, a pencil in one hand, the other hovering over the telegraph machine. His telegrapher’s uniform was buttoned up with two rows of gold buttons, gold adornments on the sleeves, a black tie tied crisply around his neck and tucked into the jacket, and a starched white collar peeking out over. Barrett burst into the room, a spot of red in the dark of the scene, to dictate a proposal to his girlfriend back in England. As he dictated, he began to sing, Massey dutifully sending the message until he looked up, bewildered
and transported to his own memories as he repeated Barrett’s last line, “Yours to keep.”
Slowly, Massey took his headphones off and began to sing. As the song progressed, Massey allowed Bride to grow more confident: standing, taking center stage, letting the character grow as his story unfolded. When Massey let loose the full power of his tenor voice as the music swelled, the audience was captivated. With a face of rapture, he sang, “Tapping out a dit dit dah dit dah dit everywhere.”
It was then that Bride and Barrett began to sing the two songs in tandem, phrases from each song arching over the other. Massey and Peluso’s voices balanced each other perfectly, filling the theater.
“It’s such a beautiful show and a wonderful score; I was just excited to be a part of it. I really love Bride because he’s really quirky. He’s really into this thing and he doesn’t care if it’s cool or not – he thought it was cool. And it should be cool, it is cool, and he wanted to share it with the world.”
Continues Massey, “It was also a good thing. It wasn’t something that was about him. It was about connecting people, and it ended up saving a lot of lives. I like the idea that whatever you do in life, if you do it with a passion and to the best of your ability, it can make a difference and bring joy to people. In this case, if he wasn’t very good at his job, he might not have been able to save those lives. But because he was so into it, in our show, he suggested, ‘Let’s use SOS which is a new way of shouting for help on the telegraph instead of this old thing which is harder to read. Let me try this new thing,’ and who knows if it was exactly because he did that, but it increased the chances of saving people, because he was really into it and gave it his all.”
SOS was a brand new distress signal that Bride sent out to nearby ships. Though many people perished in the Titanic tragedy, the SOS alerted the ships of the caliber of the Titanic’s disaster and brought ships to save the survivors both in the lifeboats and on driftwood.
In the finale, the survivors of the Titanic’s sinking stood in eerie lighting, circles of light in a row across the front of the stage for them to stand in. Massey stood at center stage, waited for Quinn Patrick Shannon to finish his line, and then softly sang a reprise of “The Proposal.” “Fare thee well. May the lord who watches all watch over thee. May God’s heaven be your blanket as you softly sleep.”
The Full Monty was originally a 1997 Oscar-nominated British film. A British colloquialism “to go the full monty” meaning “to go the whole mile” became the title, a cheeky way of stating that the strippers would be going nude. In 2000, the show was turned into a musical, and the setting moved from Sheffield, England to Buffalo, New York – another steel town where steel workers were struggling with employment. The show opened on Broadway on October 26, 2000 and was nominated for 10 Tony Awards.
Malcolm’s big song, “You Walk With Me” comes in Act II of the show. Though it is a funeral song in the show, it is also an affirmation of love and support. It is a beautiful piece of music that has been used as a wedding song in recent years.
A few months ago, Massey attended a concert by husband and wife Jason Danieley and Marin Mazzie where Danieley sang “You Walk With Me.” Says Massey, “I remember hearing the cast recording back in college, and I thought it was really fun, but there was one song that was really beautiful. Then I kind of forgot about it and Jason Danieley – the original Malcom on Broadway – and his wife did this concert in New York, and he sang the song. I thought, ‘That’s really familiar – oh my gosh, it’s him; he did it,’ and it was beautiful. Cut to a month or so later, and I got cast in this part and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh I get to do this part!’”
Massey grew up a shy kid in North Carolina. He enjoyed music; his father was the director of the church choir. He took piano lessons and liked to sing. When he was in the second grade, he saw a production of The Velveteen Rabbit put on by the Primary Players, a company where children in grades 3–5 made the sets, ran the lights, and did it all. After seeing the show, he wanted to become a part of it and was cast the next year in The Ransom of Red Chief as Red Chief, a mischievous child from a small town in the mountains. Red Chief, the grandson of a prominent man, gets kidnapped for ransom – only, in the end, his captors have such trouble with him that they end up paying to return him. “Somehow I got cast as that little kid, as Red Chief,” Massey says, laughing. “The hellion. I guess I just really enjoyed it.”
In high school, Massey did theater for fun but wanted to be a doctor. He did well in school and attended the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill as a Morehead Cain Scholar. He was a music major for fun – “to look well-rounded for med schools” – because he didn’t love science (he preferred math) and didn’t want to major in it. Still, he finished all the required courses for the pre-med track. In his free time Massey found himself doing more and more with music. He was a member of the UNC Clef Hangers, a student-run a capella group on campus. For a few years he even served as the music director and arranger for the group. Surprisingly, Massey didn’t have the opportunity to do much theater, getting instead more classical music training in the classroom.
After graduating from Chapel Hill with honors and a B.M. in Vocal Performance and a minor in Chemistry (“a natural byproduct of the pre-med track”), Massey was talked into moving to New York City for a gap year before he started med school by a friend. He moved to NYC with a limited resume, his “cheap headshot from North Carolina,” and sixteen bars of music for auditions. “I began going to calls, got cast, and here I am!”
One of Massey’s earliest roles was Doody in Germany in the Wolfgang Bocksch European Tour’s production of Grease. “It was one of the biggest, craziest calls I’ve ever been to,” Massey recalls. “There were eight hundred people just waiting around, and they only let us sing eight bars of music by the time they got to me. Then they ended up contacting me that night. The guy who had been playing the role they wanted me for on the tour had gotten a vocal injury, and they needed somebody overnight, literally. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. When I got out there at first, they had been doing the show all in English because the Germans mainly knew the movie; they were used to that. That was about five months.”
“I came back to the U.S. for a while and then went back to the tour. The second time, the first five weeks we did Grease in English, and during that time they got a translator to translate the dialogue; the songs remained in English. They wanted to make it fresher and more attainable because this tour had been going on for a long time. We were learning it in German during the day and performing it in English at night. After those five weeks we continued the tour with the dialogue in German and the songs in English, except when we popped over the border to Luxemburg, I believe, for about three days. After doing the dialogue in German for months we popped over and, all of a sudden, we had to do the whole show in English again for three days. That was a bit of a mind flip, but it was fun.”
Massey’s German skills came back to serve him in the German production of Tarzan. “Everything I’ve done has kind of prepared me for the next thing. With Tarzan it was a similar situation. I had done it on Broadway and the guys at Disney knew me by that point, even though it was mainly a German producer. When they opened the show in Germany, there were some Tarzans getting hurt, both the main guy and the understudy, so they had two understudies keeping it afloat, and they were nervous. They called me up and asked what I was doing. One of the guys knew that I had done the Grease tour in German, so they thought maybe I could do this. They called me out of the blue, asked how I was doing, and how my German was. The German director said, ‘Repeat after me’ and said this German tongue twister. I just repeated it back. I didn’t really know what he was saying, but I could pronounce it. He said, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s fine.’ And then he gave the phone back to the guy I knew who said, ‘Okay, here’s the situation. Can you come over and learn the role in a week and a half in German and play the role in German for a little while?’ And I said, ‘Okay!’”
Massey’s ability to learn different languages has served him well. In 2003 he was an original cast member of the Deaf West production of Big River. The show, based on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, had a cast of hearing, deaf, and hard-of-hearing actors. The choreography incorporated sign language to make the show more accessible to deaf/hard of hearing audience members. The production was nominated for the Best Revival of a Musical at the 2004 Tony Awards and was remounted for a National Tour which launched in June of 2004, and Massey toured with the show.
He used the sign language he’d learned with the show when he volunteered for a few weeks at a friend’s outreach organization in Uganda. He met a group of hard-of-hearing children and was able to communicate with them. While sign languages, like spoken languages, change from country to country (with dialects in different regions), Massey was able to find some common signs to communicate and connect with them. Connecting with other people, Massey says, is what he enjoys most.
Though it’s the Fourth of July, the cast is hard at work in the Benedum Center rehearsal room. They’ve been in rehearsal since ten in the morning and now, at five o’clock, are gearing up for a run-through of the show. Massey is dressed in black Nike sneakers, black North Face sweatpants, and a red t-shirt. He sings a couple bars from “You Walk With Me” at the piano with the pianist and fellow castmate Dan DeLuca before rehearsal starts. Barry Ivan, the director, calls them over, talks to them and the four other leads, and then goes to his seat. The six men do a chant and disperse for the start of the show. During the run-through, Massey stays calm and focused, sitting in a chair in the back of the room when not in the scene. When he’s in the scene, he is hilariously quirky and awkward as the shy Malcolm, earning laughter from his fellow castmates and the production staff. In Massey’s capable hands, Malcolm is sweet and charming in his own way, immediately endearing himself to the audience.
There’s a misconception around the show that it’s solely about stripping. True, there are a few stripping numbers, but the majority of the show rests on the group of six men attempting to do right by their families. The show is packed with heart and relatable messages about family, masculinity, and love. It had Massey tearing up several times during rehearsal.
“The show is really a fun and touching piece. It’s an unconventional story too. I was tearing up multiple times, and you wouldn’t think that with a show like Monty, but it really is touching. It’s about humanity and you see people up there being vulnerable and maybe they don’t make great choices in the beginning, but you see them break down the walls and say, ‘I don’t feel like I’m enough. Here’s why I did those things, and I’m sorry.’ And then you see the other side of the party saying, ‘Oh my gosh, you are enough. All I want is you.’ It’s a really beautiful thing, and it’s great to be a fool with a bunch of guys. Malcolm is such a gentle soul, and I like playing guys that are kind of pure of heart and gentle souls. He has a big change, a big arc in the show from where he starts to where he ends.”
Despite enjoying playing gentle, “pure of heart” characters, Massey took on the role of the charming yet murderous Monty Navarro on the National Tour of the hilarious, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. The show tells the story of young Monty Navarro who has recently learned that he is, in fact, a member of the wealthy D’Ysquith family and is ninth in line to the D’Ysquith fortune and the title of Earl of Highhurst. Like anyone would, he decides to murder all the heirs before him to win the materialistic girl of his dreams.
“While it was difficult physically, vocally, and energetically, my job was made much easier by the fact that it was so well written. While I tried to bring my own personality and charm and whatever it was to the role, the way the role was written, oddly enough, you do root for him to kill people,” he says, and laughs. “The roles around him, the family, are written as just despicable people. The guy, John Rapson who’s my best buddy now, he played all of the family members just in such a wonderful way that you end up loving to hate them.”
Massey remembers that when he was in Pittsburgh for Gentleman’s Guide in December of 2016, a series of fireworks went off during his one slow song of the show, “Sibella.” Luckily this time there won’t be any fireworks going off during The Full Monty, except maybe from the audience when they see the final strip number, "Let It Go."
Be sure to catch Kevin and the wonderful cast of Pittsburgh CLO’s The Full Monty at the Benedum tonight through next Sunday. You can buy tickets here.
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