This summer I wrote about Leonardo Le San, a young pianist playing at Carnegie Hall who has the guts to list on his Facebook page, "Religious views: Christian" (see "A Christian at Carnegie Hall," July 31, 2010). This column starts with an equally gutsy declaration by young actor Jeff Kready, who's playing one of the five major roles in the Tony Award-winning musical Billy Elliot—"Kansas music teacher turned actor: credit to God alone for this amazing opportunity."
That declaration was in the "Who's Who in the Cast" section of Playbill, the theater magazine. Actors can put in the line of their choice (another from Billy Elliot wrote "Let's Go Mets") and occasionally an actor does thank God along with family members—but "credit to God alone"? In an occupation filled with egotists, not many say that.
My wife, Susan, and I had dinner with Jeff and his wife, Nikki, who works in another Broadway musical, the revival of Promises, Promises. Work it is, eight performances a week. They are celebrating their first wedding anniversary this month, but she'll continue commuting between their Harlem apartment and Broadway while he heads out on the highway with the Billy Elliot national touring company: Stops coming up in Durham, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Charlotte, Tampa, Houston, Seattle, Portland, Tempe, Denver, Dallas, and St. Louis.
Nikki came to Manhattan in 2001 and found out the day after 9/11 that she had won a role in Aida. She grew up dreaming of singing on stage, and her eyes light up when she talks about living the dream in New York as she sang "Summertime" in Porgy and Bess before 3,000 people. Jeff , 28, came in 2006 after leaving a job as a music teacher and then working at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theater in Lancaster, Pa. He landed a role in the Les Miserables revival, understudied the Jean Valjean lead role, and got to perform it: Recalling that dream moment, he said, "You feel like your head's going to explode."
They are the winners in Manhattan's never-ending race to be working on stage and to have a role in the next musical when the one you're in closes. Neither has had to work a "survival job" in New York. And yet, both Jeff and Nikki tell aspiring singers/actors with suitcases almost packed, "Don't come here unless you can't see yourself doing anything else."