Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.
Kenneth Posey, the current star of Jekyll and Hyde in Germany, recently released an album called If I Sing, which we’re offering for sale on the Fynsworth Alley web site under special arrangement. Before joining Jekyll, Kenneth performed in Phantom of the Opera, Beauty and the Beast, several other musicals and a plethora of operas. To find out more about him, visit http://www.kennethposey.de, his official web site. Or just read on…
DL: So, I’m sure the first question you always get asked is how a guy from Houston ended up as a staple of German musical theatre. What’s your story?
KP: Shortly after graduating from high school, I left Houston to train as an opera singer. After chasing every teacher, every school, every chance – I ended up in Boston. Ironically, a result of my education was the realization that making a living as an opera singer in the US was almost impossible: too few opera houses and too many singers. It was 1990. The Berlin Wall had just come down, Germany was still in two parts but talking reunification, and I decided to go. I immediately got a job in a small opera house in eastern Germany where I guess you could say I completed my education – over 30 roles in three years! I then worked my way into the mainstream of the German opera world and spent a couple of years singing non-stop but living mainly in hotels. When a call came, inviting me to Switzerland for a new production of Phantom of the Opera – 13 months of living in one beautiful city – I accepted it without a thought. One Phantom led to another (Hamburg) then came another new production (Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) followed immediately by Jekyll & Hyde. Ten years after leaving the US, I’m still here and having a great time!
DL: Your training includes significant work in opera as well as musical theatre, and your professional career has included both operatic and legit roles. Do you find it difficult to juggle both worlds?
KP: Juggling was easier when I was mainly singing opera with an occasional Musical Theatre role. Opera singers don’t sing eight shows a week and that made it possible to schedule other things. These days, when I have time away from Jekyll & Hyde, all I want to do is rest!
DL: Opera vs. musical theatre: Do you prefer one over the other?
KP: Intellectually, they are very much the same for me – there are good ones and not-so-good ones in both genres. However, as a performer, I prefer musical theatre to opera. The commercial aspect of Musical Theatre usually results in excellent, audience-friendly productions and good entertainment. Here in Germany, many opera productions are state-supported and they are not really dependant upon ticket sales to survive. Satisfying the audience is not always a priority.
DL: In America there’s definitely a stigma attached to “crossover” artists. Do you feel that in Germany?
KP: Definitely. But I’ve always done both – and I’ve always fought against that very thing. I was a Texas boy who grew up singing Country & Western, gospel and pop music. The decision to “major in music” meant learning a classical singing technique – but that doesn’t mean surgically implanting operatic vocal cords in your throat! I don’t sing “Amazing Grace” the same as I sing a Verdi aria. And I don’t sing “This is the Moment” the same as I sing “Maria”. There are those who understand that and those who don’t. I can live with that.
DL: Generally speaking, how does the musical theatre scene in Germany compare to Broadway or the West End? Is there a lot of activity? Is there much native German musical theatre, or is most of it translations of imported shows?
KP: For decades, the state-supported Theatres in Germany did everything: opera, ballet, plays, operettas and musicals. In 1986, Cats came to Hamburg and changed the entire scene. Long-run musicals started sprouting up all over the country: big new theatres with expensive slick shows translated into German and controlled by creative teams from Broadway or the West End. Over the next ten years, most of the “hit” shows opened here and they have been very successful. The shows here tend to be bigger than their American or British counterparts. They play in theatres with 1300-1800 seats and on stages much larger than those in New York or London. To fill the stage and to allow for the very generous vacation laws in Germany, they also employ more actors.
There have not been very many successful native German musicals, however, some great shows are coming out of Austria: Elisabeth, Tanz der Vampire and Mozart! All are great shows and all of them come from Vienna (Vereinigte Bühnen Wien). They deserve to be in the mainstream and that’s why I included songs from Vampire and Mozart! on my CD. Things are changing, however. Increasingly more companies are producing original shows and Disney debuted The Hunchback of Notre Dame in Berlin – in German – rather than in New York.
DL: You’ve had the chance to play some of the great leading man roles in musical theatre, from West Side Story to Jekyll and Hyde. Do you have a favorite?
KP: Jekyll and Hyde is the most satisfying role I’ve ever played – in musical theatre or opera. Everything I’ve ever learned as a singer-actor is required to make it work. And I have great songs to sing!
DL: In addition to performing, you also teach performance. What are the most important lessons you try to pass on to your students?
KP: Use your strengths, improve your weaknesses and if something’s missing, go and find it. Be a “type” – even if you have to create it. In this business you have to be either a fantastic copy or a fantastic original.
DL: How did your album come about? Whose idea was it to concentrate on contemporary musical theatre, and to mix songs sung in German with songs in English?
KP: Originally, a producer from Sony proposed the idea of making a recording. However, in the planning stage, he left the company, and I was left to decide whether to continue with the album – as a private venture – or not. By that time, I was quite excited about the idea and decided the time was right to go ahead with it. I wanted a mixture of songs people knew well and songs people might want to know better. And I wanted songs that I love to sing. As the list started taking shape, I realized I had quite a few songs from contemporary musical theatre but that was mainly a coincidence. I was often advised not to mix English and German songs on the same album, but the German songs are good songs and it was my decision to include them.
DL: How did you choose the final song list?
KP: I started with “A Bit of Earth” and “If I Sing,” songs I definitely wanted to record. Thanks to a great group of guys who wanted to sing the Chorus, “Buidoi” was quickly added to the list. The songs from Jekyll & Hyde were more or less a given, and the rest of the songs were decided through work sessions with the conductor, Koen Schoots, whose opinion I value greatly. We went through the remaining possibilities and, based primarily on feelings and instincts, made the final decisions.
DL: The German songs are likely to be new for American listeners. Can you say a little bit about the songs and the shows they are from?
KP: Mozart! is the latest musical from Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levy, who also wrote Elisabeth – a very popular show over here (Katarina Witt skated to a song from Elisabeth in her last Olympics). Mozart! is, of course, about the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Colloredo, the rival of Mozart who shares the leading man responsibilities in the show, sings the song I recorded „Wie kann es möglich sein?“
Tanz der Vampire is based on the Roman Polanski film Dance of the Vampires. It is the result of the collaboration of American composer Jim Steinman, German lyricist Michael Kunze (see Mozart!) and Roman Polanski, who also staged the musical. “Die unstillbare Gier” means “the insatiable lust” and is sung by leading Vampire, Graf von Krolock, as he recounts his lonely centuries of conquests. It’s a very cool song! You might recognize the melody from the Meat Loaf recording, “Objects in the Rear View Mirror.”
DL: What’s your favorite moment on the album?
KP: The title song, “If I Sing” from Closer Than Ever has always been a favorite of mine. Matthias Deneke’s arrangement captured the mood of the song exactly as I wished to sing it. Jennifer Hamman played the Steinway and made it sing. And Koen Schoots truly inspired the orchestra to express rather than just to play. It was actually very difficult to get the song recorded, because I kept choking up! When it finally all came together, it was a very special moment in the studio and one I’ll not soon forget.
DL: Do you ever perform in concert, or are you strictly a theatrical performer? What type of repertoir do you present?
KP: When I have the time, I really enjoy performing in concert. The contact with the audience is more direct – and the music more varied – than what is possible in a theatrical performance. I tend to mix musical songs with jazz or blues – whatever is fun to sing!
DL: How does studio work compare to concerts or stage work? Do you approach your material differently than you do in the context of a live performance?
KP: What I like most about recording is the challenge of creating a theatrical moment, not with Chandeliers and Helicopters, but with the voice alone. I learned quickly with my album, that I preferred to do complete takes – songs sung from beginning to end and not spliced together – to better create those moments. And even if the audience is not live in the studio, the fact that a recording is heard mainly in peoples’ homes, keeps that “audience feeling” very much alive. On stage, there are so many aspects working together to make the performance work. You are one part of a well-oiled machine. It’s a great job, but there is something quite intimate about studio work, and I hope to be able to do more of it.
DL: Do you ever perform in the United States? Do you plan to?
KP: I haven’t performed in the US for several years. I’m open to the idea, but will probably continue to live in Germany. I like it here.
DL: What’s next in the career of Kenneth Posey?
KP: My current contract at Jekyll & Hyde runs until April 19, 2001. I haven’t yet committed myself to another year, but I haven’t ruled it out, either. In short, I’m looking a various options and we’ll see what happens!