Chester County is one of the three original Pennsylvania counties that was created by William Penn. Kelsey Beckert, is from West Chester, the county seat. She is touring with the Roundabout Theater Company’s Tony award-winning production of “Cabaret,” which will be making its Philadelphia premiere at the Academy of Music on Tuesday, April 4. The show runs until Sunday, April 9.
“I love being from West Chester,” Kelsey expressed. “It’s just a great town. I have a lot of Chester County pride in my heart. It’s a great place to grow up, so I’m excited to be coming back to Philly on April 4th. Currently, we’re in Columbus, Ohio and they’ve got a really nice running trail along the river that I’ve used a lot this week.”
When asked if she was a serious runner, Kelsey laughed, “I wish I could tell you that I was. I just started running this week because I wanted to do something different just for a fun challenge. So, I signed up for a 5K, which probably doesn’t sound like a lot to people who run all the time, but I don’t run. I’m a huge yogi. I do a lot of yoga. That’s actually my thing.”
Continually pushing herself to not only try, but to succeed at new things is why Beckert was able to tackle such a formidable part in this production. Not only is she on stage every show performing 25 songs on clarinet, but she is also a Swing, one of the most challenging positions in theater. But before we delve into what’s expected of her on a nightly basis, let’s take a quick tour of Kelsey’s past.
“I know it’s kind of cliché, but I grew up singing and dancing,” she began. “Some of my first memories of being a kid were dancing in the aisles at Sunday Mass. I started taking ballet when I was five, but I found it kind of boring — I wish I didn’t because my dance technique would be a lot better right now if that wasn’t the case. My mom put me into Irish step dancing classes when I was seven and that kind of stuck. I competed pretty heavily for about 10 years.”
Because of her intense training and competition schedule — Kelsey traveled across the U.S. and Canada to compete — she didn’t have a whole lot of spare time.
“I was one of those kids who was super busy doing it all,” she recalled. “Even though step dancing took up a lot of my time, I still did all of the school musicals and I was in band and chorus.”
However, when Kelsey started thinking about college and the rest of her life, she decided that Irish step dancing didn’t offer her enough in the way of a professional career, so she started focusing on theater. Musical theater was a love she’d had her entire life, but because of her dancing schedule, she’d never had the chance to pursue it with the passion she’d always carried in her heart. When she was a junior, Beckert began taking voice and acting lessons. That career path led her to Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey where she studied musical theater. While at Montclair, Kelsey became friends with Megan Fulmer, who recently toured with Deborah Cox in “The Bodyguard.” [You can read Megan’s interview HERE.]
“Cabaret” is a show that Kelsey always wanted to do. She auditioned for the New York company back in 2013, shortly after she had begun working professionally in theater. Even though it was a long shot, the talented performer made it all the way to the final, final round of callbacks and got to meet director Sam Mendes (“Skyfall,” “American Beauty”).
“When they were auditioning for the tour back in the summer of 2015, I went back in for it,” Kelsey informed. “It was the same team that I had auditioned for in 2013, so it was nice to see some friendly faces. When it happened, it was honestly a dream come true. I’d been working for this and dreaming about it and preparing for so long. I’m very, very lucky and grateful to be part of this show.”
“It’s just so iconic! Everybody knows the movie and everybody knows Joel Grey did it back in the 60s and 70s. This production of it, what Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall came together to create, is a grittier version of the show. I think the message hits you in a way that you don’t really expect. You think ‘Cabaret’ is so fun and light, but this version hits deep in your soul. It’s cool to be touring the country in this production — especially last year, which was a crazy year with the election and everything — because regardless of your political beliefs or where you stand, everybody can get something out of it. You don’t always get that from every musical and I think that’s really important because the message stays with you. You’ll be thinking about this show long after you see it.”
Beyond its iconic nature, there is a personal reason that makes ‘Cabaret’ so special to Kelsey. Each night, when she performs, she is playing on her mother’s clarinet. “She passed away when I was 15. It’s such a personal connection for me. When I’m playing her clarinet, she can be there with me every night. She’s the one who got me into all this.”
As noted earlier, besides playing clarinet, Kelsey is also a Swing. For those uncertain of what that means, basically Beckert has to remain ever-ready to step into any one of several roles. Sometimes, at just a moment’s notice.
“It’s always nice when someone has a scheduled vacation or a scheduled personal day so you know in advance and you can prepare,” Kelsey explained. “But sometimes when you’re playing your instrument up on the bandstand, the stage management calls you over and tells you that you have to go on. That’s happened a handful of times to both me and the other female Swing, they just put you on the mic and say ‘Okay, go do your thing.’ I have all my notes and I can refer back to them if I need them, but usually I just do it because, as you know, the show must go on.”
“Honestly, it’s something I never thought I would ever do. When I got the job offer and my agent told me that I was going to be a Swing, I immediately thought, ‘Oh no, that’s for the really smart people!'” she laughed. “I knew it was going to be a challenge — you have to learn five times more things than a normal ensemble member. And then on top of that, I’m already in every show. I’m in hair and makeup and costume for every performance because I’m playing those 25 songs on my clarinet. I’ve never worked harder in my entire life. It was tough in the beginning, but now I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I feel excited and I feel fearless. If someone puts a task in front of me, I know I can accomplish it. That’s a really cool feeling, something I’ve never felt before on any show. It’s exhilarating!”
“Cabaret” opens on Tuesday, April 4 at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. [Tickets available HERE.] The dates and times are as follows:
Tuesday, April 4 at 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, April 5 at 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 6 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, April 7 at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, April 8 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, April 9 at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
After Philadelphia, you can see “Cabaret” from April 12 – 16 in Naples, Florida at Artis-Naples; April 25 – 30 in Buffalo, New York at Shea’s Performing Arts Center; May 2 – 5 in Rochester, New York at the Auditorium Theatre; May 9 – 14 in Schenectady, New York at Proctors; June 6 – 11 in San Jose California at the Center for the Performing Arts; June 13 – 25 in Seattle Washington at the Paramount Theatre; June 27 – July 2 in Portland Oregon at the Keller Auditorium; and July 11 – August 6 in Washington D.C. at the Eisenhower Theatre’s The Kennedy Center.