One Dream, One Summer and A Prayer
It all started in 2003 in my hometown of Barnegat, New Jersey. My mother took me to see a production of Oliver at our local community theater, Our Gang Players. She tells me that during the entire show I tried to climb up onto the stage and join the cast because I was enjoying it so much. After that, I begged her to get me involved in the theater company. I was itching to be on the stage and to perform.
In my first show with Our Gang Players I was a "munchkin" and a "lullaby leaguer" in The Wizard Of Oz. My brother did the show with me, although he didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I did, and we performed in a real production for the first time together. This is also when I met my childhood best friend, and best friend to this day, Madison Ernst. I continued performing with Maddie in a number of shows with Our Gang including, 101 Dalmatians, The Music Man, Seussical the Musical, and The Jungle Book.
Kelsey & Maddie as "Perdita" in 101 Dalmations
My dreams got bigger when my mother took me to see my very first Broadway show in New York City, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I was completely mesmerized by the talent on the stage. I remember sitting in the Lyric Theater on 42nd Street and thinking, "Why aren't I doing this here. I have to perform on Broadway". There were close to twenty children on the stage that night and they all looked like they were having the time of their lives and I wanted, more than anything, to join the fun. During intermission, my mom and I went outside and I climbed the steps of the New Victory Theater, right next door, and started singing “Tomorrow” from Annie. This was directly across the street from the New Amsterdam Theater. Little did I know that, about four years later, that’s where I would be performing as “Jane Banks” in Mary Poppins. People on the other side of 42nd Street stopped and started cheering and clapping as I sang and I was having the time of my life. I continued to sing on the steps for the entirety of intermission and, just before we went back inside for the second act, we called my dad and told him that I sang on Broadway! He couldn’t believe that I just started singing in the middle of 42nd street and, to this day, I consider that the real start of it all.
After that, I began to beg and plead my parents to take me to NYC to audition for Broadway shows. I continued to beg for nearly a year until my parents finally proposed a plan and agreed to consider taking me to NYC to audition for one summer and if I booked something, they promised to support me all the way, if I didn't book something by the end of summer, that would be the end and I would quit persisting. Their conditions were tough. For about the next year, I had to take dance, acting and singing lessons at a regional theater, Surflight Theater, on Long Beach Island (about 45 minutes from home) four nights a week and I had to maintain straight A’s in all of my subjects in school. At the time I was in fourth grade and this was quite the feat, as I went to a private school. My mother worked as an administrative assistant at the school and everyday we would leave together and go right to the island where she would wait for me while I had all different types of lessons for a few hours. My voice teacher at Surflight, Kara Mikula, saw something special in me and told my mother, “If you don’t take her to NYC to audition, I will.” So, shout out to Kara for teaching me how to sing with control and support and for convincing my mom to take me to the Big Apple! When summer finally came, I couldn’t wait to get started. My book was filled with Johnny One Note, A Part of Your World, A Whole New World and a variety of other great songs that Kara had helped me prepare. Though having no agent (no representation at all), and no private audition appointments, in my little mind I was ready to go and completely expected to be successful. And I had one summer to make it happen. After all, I was only 9 years old and didn’t understand that there were thousands of other people in this big city who had been trying to do the exact same thing their entire lives. My parents heavily prepared me for the rejection I might face. They later told me, that they never in a million years thought that I would book a Broadway show, they were just giving me the limited opportunity to finally cease the endless pleading to audition in NYC. I had my vocal coach, my song book, my training, my prayers and my dream. So summer finally came and off to non-equity, open calls we went!
My very first audition was for the 2006 revival of Les Miserables and I was auditioning for "Young Cosette." To my parents' surprise, I made it to the final round of callbacks. I think they began to get a little nervous and were thankful that they may have dodged a bullet. As the summer continued, I went to the open call for Mary Poppins and the national tour of Annie (there was quite a bit happening for child actors that year!). At the open call for Annie, I had survived a few rounds of cuts and they asked us to leave and go back in a few hours. My mother and I, being completely new to the city, had no idea where to go or what to do to pass the time. Another mother invited us to accompany her and her daughter to the open call for a new Broadway musical, Grey Gardens. When we arrived, we were disappointed to learn that they were only seeing Equity, adult actors that day. I was neither of the two and we thought we wouldn’t be seen. Then the casting director came out and said that they had seen all they needed to see from the adults that day and they were only going to be seeing the few children that had come over from the Annie auditions. They had auditioned children the week prior but hadn't found what they were looking for. Excited, I went in and sang “Johnny One Note” with all the gusto I could muster up and got a callback on the spot. I was completely thrilled and my mother was shocked.
While I was auditioning that summer, I was also performing at Surflight Theater. I had just finished a children's production of Peter Pan and was beginning rehearsals for Alice in Wonderland. During the last show of the weekend of performances, I had another callback for Grey Gardens with the producers and the creative team. This was the fourth time I was going in for the show, so we knew it was starting to get serious. We asked my director if I could miss last show (as I was a small ensemble role and had a friend who had played the part the year before who offered to fill in for me) he said no! My mom didn't know what to do and she was stressing because she knew how upset I'd be. She was getting out of her car at the TJMaxx parking lot that day when she bumped into the head of the theater. She told him about the situation and he said, "Well of course she's going to that audition! I'll take care of it!" Thanks to him, I was able to go to the callback and wound up getting a call that night, as we were on our way home, for the final callback at nine the next morning. They wanted me to be dressed in 1930/40's apparel and to have my hair done and curled. Mom called up the heads of Surflight and asked for their help in getting the dress I needed. I went to the final callback with the entire creative team and all the producers and had a great time. We got a call some time later that I had booked my first Broadway show and I began rehearsals for Grey Gardens the day before my 10th birthday in 2006.
Kelsey as Lee Bouvier and Sarah Hyland as young Jackie Kennedy in Grey Gardens
Kelsey as Lee Bouvier, Sarah Hyland as young Jackie Kennedy and Christine Ebersole as Edie Beale in Grey Gardens
Opening night of Grey Gardens
So that's how it all began. That's how all of my big dreams were born and how they began to come to fruition. I went on to perform in three more Broadway shows and one National Tour during my childhood acting career and had the time of my life. My parents kept their promise and my entire family supported, and continue to support me in everything I do. Without them, none of my successes would have been possible and I most certainly wouldn't be living my dreams today.