Katrina Kemp talks "Phantom" sequel, inspirations, and a mission of truth and visibility
Thu. February 8, 2018 by Matt Inawat
Live in your own truth and believe you have something to offer
Katrina Kemp talks "Phantom" sequel, inspirations, and a mission of truth and visibility
The spellbinding sequel to The Phantom of the Opera will play Chicago for the very first time in a limited three-week engagement at Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre (151 W. Randolph) February 14 through March 4, 2018.
LOVE NEVER DIES features music by the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber and takes audiences on a thrilling rollercoaster ride of intrigue, obsession and romance. Audiences will be seduced by the beautiful; sometimes magical and poetic; sometimes joyful; and occasionally melancholic score.
Directed by Simon Phillips (Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical) with new set and costume designs by Gabriela Tylesova, choreography by 2011 Astaire Awards winner Graeme Murphy, lighting design by Nick Schlieper and sound design by Mick Potter, the show is one of the few instances of a major West End musical being given a complete makeover for subsequent productions.
Katrina Kemp chatted with ChicagoPride.com about her role as Fleck, one of the Phantom's three henchmen, in the touring musical.
Kemp made her acting/stuntwoman professional debut embodying Chucky the Killer Doll at Universal Studios Hollywood. She’s a Los Angeles native starring in the circus, Cirque Berzerk, several music videos (Rihanna), and guest star roles on television (RuPaul’s Drag Race, Man Seeking Woman, Faking It, The Eric Andre Show, American Horror Story, Fameless.)
MI: (Matt Inawat) Hi Katrina! Thanks for taking the time out to chat today! Congratulations on the role and on your amazing success for the national tour for Love Never Dies.
KK: (Katrina Kemp) Thank you!
MI: So let's start by talking a little bit about the production.
KK: Well, it's beautiful. It's spectacular. There's all kinds of twists and turns.
MI: Just like the original Phantom?
KK: Just like the original, except this one is set on Coney Island, and the aesthetic is very much that of a twisted and turning roller-coaster, even.
MI: That sounds eerie. So tell us a little about your character Fleck. What drew you into playing the role?
KK: Well, actually, I'm from Los Angeles, and I got a breakdown offering to send a video of me, singing, to one of the main songs, Coney Island Waltz. I had never been in a musical before, but I decided to scrape some video together, some editing stuff, and just a bunch of crazy silks and candelabras in my living room, and had a friend help me build a little audition tape. I sent it off, and then about a couple months later, they were asking me to come to New York and meet the creatives in person, so I did that.
We did some of the extensive choreography that me and my two partners, Richard and Stephen, do as the trio. At that time, I did them with some other people auditioning, and then a couple weeks later, they were asking me to go on the tour. It wasn't really until I got to the rehearsal process - I'd say probably about a week after - that we learned all of the routines. We learned about six of them in four days.
Interview continues after the photo - Caption: Richard Koons ("Squelch"), Katrina Kemp ("Fleck") and Stephen Petrovich ("Gangle") star in Love Never Dies; photo credit: Joan Marcus
It really wasn't until that that we got the movements right between me and Richard, who plays Squelch, and Stephen, who plays Gangle, that I think I felt comfortable enough to start getting to know Fleck as a character and sort of just getting in the movement and the mindset of why and how she got to Coney Island - and how she became this aerialist extraordinaire.
I think, for me, my drive as Fleck on stage is really about admiring Phantom, as much as the other characters are. Her drive for what she does and how well she wants to do in and out of what is going on in the show scenes, and when it takes place backstage, is sort of a little gossip queen. Really, her drive is to please him and put on the best show for all the Coney Islanders.
MI: Amazing - so this is your first musical.
MI: But you've been on the entertainment "stage" before that, right?
KK: Yeah, I had been in the theater when I was a kid, just from about fifth grade to about ninth grade, and I always loved entertainment. I would mess around with my video camera and stuff, and have my mom film things even before that. That led me to drama, and then I had a little bit of choir training throughout those same years.
And then when I got to high school, I ended up joining my school's live television show. By senior year, I was just really involved in everything that had to do with school spirit and prom and being a host on the television show, producing, editing. I knew I really wanted to go into television production, so I ended up going to college for that in 2008, and then I graduated in TV production in 2013.
Throughout that time, I had decided that I really wanted to keep auditioning during audition season. And then when auditions were no longer available for little people, during the year, I decided to get work in background production, doing behind-the-scene stuff. Yeah, throughout that time, I just found myself in some really fun and exciting situations, where I would meet someone who would say, "Hey, why don't you come and join this project?" And then somehow I'd meet someone on that project, and it would take me to the next, and to the next.
MI: That's pretty awesome. Was there a special moment or a person that specifically inspired you to get into entertainment?
KK: There's been a couple throughout my life who have, subconsciously, nudged me forward. One of those people was Meredith Eaton. She's a wonderful, beautiful, amazing actress. She is also a little person. We share the same type of dwarfism. There's over 250 different kinds of dwarfisms, and Meredith, she was in a movie called Unconditional Love with Kathy Bates. My step-mom showed me this movie forever ago, and I just remember thinking, "It's such a cool ground-breaking role that Meredith gets to play as a little-person, strong female in the film." It really made an impression on me.
Around that time, I was able to start watching more films, rated R and PG-13 and things, without having to ask. I remember, around that time, I saw her and I was like, "If she can do this, I want to make an impact on someone in the same way that she's made an impact on me in this film."
KK: I'd say, a couple years later, I saw Kill Bill, Kill Bill 1 and Kill Bill 2, and I was just completely swept off my feet by everything that that movie was, aesthetically, and just how adrenaline-filled it was, not only within the story, pushing it forward, but also their bodies and the choreography. When I'm up on the stage, I'm just imaging myself as Beatrix Kiddo, Uma Thurman, just kicking ass. My whole teenage years, really, it propelled me forward, those movies, and I just always wanted to be the little-person Beatrix Kiddo. I'm that character.
MI: That's a great visual, especially when you're trying to get through the challenge of doing the play every day. Are there any words of advice that you'd like to share with aspiring dreamers and actors looking to make it in the entertainment industry?
KK: It's honestly true that, if you live in your own truth and you believe you have something to offer and something to give, and you don't give up on spreading that message, enough people will drop out of their place in line and move onto something else.
And if you continue pushing forward, your spot will continue moving up and someone, somewhere, is gonna appreciate what you have to say and what you have to offer.
MI: That's a great message! So, now that you're touring on your first musical, is there a dream role in the future that you'd like to play, as far as musicals go?
KK: We did have someone ask me this the other day, one of the cast members, and honestly I would have to say Phantom would be a fantasy role, because I just like to break gender norms and how you can twist something on its head but still get the same message across. Yeah, I just like how sexy and overbearing and wild that he is. I feel like it would be such a fun and reckless character to get to play and get into that mindset.
It's always made an impression on me, seeing Phantom, there, in that skeleton mask - up there at the top of the stairs, for masquerade, coming down to scare everyone, and demands the entire audience, not only through breaking the fourth wall, but also breaking the fourth wall of the show and all the characters. I just think it would be such a fun character to play, to just have that magnetism and get to play with that.
MI: Yeah, definitely! So are you looking forward to being in cold Chicago?
KK: I absolutely am. I've never been to Chicago. It's gonna be so much fun. I have someone coming and visiting me, and they're gonna get to see the show. I'm gonna get to just really explore sort of older Americana. I feel like, me being born and raised in LA, everything changes there every six months.
Getting to see this side of America, just so much more intimately, from these centers, epicenters of downtowns, you really get to see the oldest parts and just see history that people are still using as everyday things.
MI: Yeah, I hope you get a lot of downtime to be able to enjoy the city. It is a beautiful city with a lot to offer.
KK: I'm really looking forward to going to Boystown, and a friend of mine mentioned the Green Mill. I believe Al Capone had some drinks there. I definitely wanna dance and get a little bit of excess energy out.
MI: Are you an Al Capone fan?
KK: Well, my friend, she had told me about it. I'm obsessed with gangsters. I've always loved things that had to do with gang life and history, and a friend of mine knew that that seemed like something that'd be interesting to me.
MI: Oh, yeah, definitely.
KK: I had been to San Francisco a couple times, and Alcatraz, I think his cell is there, and I always loved that too.
MI: If you're a pizza fan, also, you should add Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinders on your list. It's built on the Al Capone lookout site that was across the street from the garage where the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre took place, so the walls still have the bullet holes in them.
MI: Yeah, there's a lot of history in there. They don't accept reservations, and the wait is usually pretty long. But if you're really into Al Capone stuff, that is the one place you have to visit and breathe in the history.
KK: Okay, I'm definitely gonna write it down. Crazy.
MI: Yeah! So I just have one last question, really. Are there any charities or causes that have a personal importance to you?
KK: Well, growing up, my mom and I always made it a point to do volunteer work as much as possible throughout the year, and usually, during Christmastime, we would go to a mission that was sponsored by the Salvation Army. They allow families to come and stay at the mission, and so what they would do is they would give us their name and their ages, Dad, teen daughters, or younger son, Mom, and so we would make these personalized baskets filled with things that a 13-year-old girl might think is fun: nail-polishes and body sprays, and things that the mom might like, things that you don't think, every day, that you might be missing out on.
We loved doing that for them. And then there was another one called Children of the Night. They had children who had been caught, whether it's in between being stolen by a pimp and taken from their families or they ran away from home and they can't get back. They house them and keep them safe and anonymous within this building that's in Van Nuys.
I remember the movie Slumdog Millionaire really made a huge impact on me. We had been wanting to do some work with this charity, and so my mom and I just pitched the money together and gave it to them, and they put together a little field-trip so that, the kids, they could go see Slumdog Millionaire.
KK: And there's another chartity - it was the first time I had ever heard of it, but one of the girls on our cast is sort of like a liaison between us and them, called Broadway Serves. They sponsored us and had us go to a place called Laura's Home in Cleveland. We went and played with kids, after school. It was an after-school program that the women who are living there are in crisis. They come and pick up the kids, and we have dinner ready for them, and everyone's eating dinner. It was nice. I wish we got to get a little bit more acquainted, but it was nice.
I was getting bombarded with questions, cause I always do. I'm 3'6", by the way. All the kids are taller than me, so they're all asking me a million questions, and so I had fun. I just finally sat down and was like, "Ask it all," and so they're eating dinner and they're like, "Okay, so.... "
MI: Oh, they must've loved that!
KK: With how crazy our schedule is, sometimes, I forget how lucky I really am. I always want to do as much community outreach as possible, and I feel like part of it is through the show. I've had other little people reach out to me and say, "Oh, I saw the show, here, in Pittsburgh. Oh, I saw the show there," and how they just can't believe that a little person is doing all of what is going on.
MI: It's amazing to hear that you're able to kind of connect with these kids and, also, break barriers, and be a role-model.
KK: Yeah, it's time to do that. My parents' generation and the generation before theirs, they grew up thinking that disability and difference was something that you need to be silent about and something that needs to be hidden. From that perspective, how can we ever move forward as a species, if you're silencing tens of millions Americans? My parents just always taught me that, if I didn't want to be bullied, I didn't want to be swept under the rug, I'm gonna have to be open and honest with myself, and know who I am, what I am, all kinds of things.
They prepared me very well when I was a little kid. When I found out I was a little person, it finally really sunk in when I was around five. For them, they knew when I was three. I just had to explain to people, "I'm Katrina. I'm a little person."
MI: Kudos to your parents. That's amazing that they did that early on. Many kids who grow up with families still don't get that type of input - to be strong and courageous and brave - and that's what the world needs!
KK: Yeah, I'm very, very lucky for that reason, and I feel like that's one of the other reasons why I never wanted to give up on entertainment, because I felt like, if I can make an impact in people's lives daily, and they can write me and tell me about it or try to befriend me because of it ... I was like, "Well, maybe I can share myself and my persona with more people, and they'll learn to accept other people like me next time they come across another little person."
MI: Absolutely! Well, Katrina, thank you so much for taking time to chat. This has been an awesome afternoon, chatting with you, and I'll definitely look forward to seeing you in Love Never Dies!
KK: You, as well. Thanks, Matthew!
Photo caption: Gardar Thor Cortes (“The Phantom”) and Meghan Picerno (“Christine Daaé”) star in Love Never Dies; photo credit: Joan Marcus
Individual tickets for LOVE NEVER DIES at the Cadillac Palace Theatre range from $35-$100 with a select number of premium seats available. Tickets are available now for groups of 10 or more by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-1710. Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800)775-2000 and online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
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