“Respect yourself and your worth" - A Chat with Theatre Aspen Actress Julie Kavanagh

Julie Kavanagh.jpg
  • Kevin Ray Johnson

I would like you to meet he wonderful Julie Kavanagh! Julie is keeping busy this summer at Theatre Aspen where she is starring as Adelaide in Guys and Dolls and soon after will be performing the role of Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. Before that Julie performed in the National Tour of La Cage Aux Folles (Colette) and for regional companies such as The Muny, TUTS, Cape Playhouse, The Asolo Repertory Theatre, The Old Globe, Stages St. Louis and Ogunquit Playhouse, just to name a few. Along with her wonderful performing career, Julie is a faculty member with The Broadway Method Academy, the resident conservatory at The Weston Country Playhouse. She is without a doubt one of the hardest working and kind hearted individuals I have ever come across in my career. It was truly a privilege to interview her!  

1.) How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a performer?  

Performing has always been my first love ever since I can remember. I grew up watching old musical movies with my mom - Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was in my movie rotation almost as much as The Lion King! I started in dance classes and voice lessons when I was very young. It’s always been in my blood, but the realization that I could really venture on this path came when I was in High School! 

2.) Where did you study? Are there any mentors that truly helped make you the performer you are today? 

I grew up studying with some absolutely wonderful teachers in St. Louis, MO. I was also very lucky to grow up in a town that not only loves theatre and the arts but also has wonderful opportunities for young performers. I never went to summer camp but spent every summer at the MUNY. The MUNY has a wonderful Kids and Teens program and I was able to spend my summers performing on that unbelievable stage - sometimes just making one (very giant) cross, and other times getting to dance alongside professionals!

Julie Kavanagh as Adele in Theatre Aspens Guys and Dolls! .jpg

My summers at the MUNY taught me so much about the true magic of theatre, and also created some of the most special life-long friendships. My choir teacher, Mr. Reeves, at Parkway North High School was also one of my biggest mentors and supporters. Although it was not specifically in Musical Theatre - his passion for music, his dedication to the craft, and discipline for the work has stuck with me every day since I first walked into class with him my freshman year. 

3.) You have kept yourself really busy this summer performing in one show (Guys and Dolls) while rehearsing for another (Little Shop of Horrors). How has your time been at Theatre Aspen performing in these two classic and very memorable shows? 

When I found out that I would get to play both Adelaide in Guys and Dolls and Audrey in Little Shop, I was SO EXCITED. Both of these roles have been on my theatre “bucket list” and to have the opportunity to play them in the same summer, in productions led by two fabulous creative teams, is an absolute dream! This is my first time working in rep and it is definitely unlike anything else. I am currently in tech for Little Shop during the day and then performing Guys and Dolls at night. I started the day as a sweet blonde and then became a sassy redhead - which is very helpful when I have to remind myself what show I’m doing! It is physically exhausting, a complete mental workout, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

It’s also been a wonderful and challenging way to experience two of the great musical theatre pieces and in my opinion, two of the greatest female roles. I fell head over heels for Guys and Dolls when I was in the ensemble u/s for Adelaide and Sarah at the Asolo Rep (with Kevin!!) & Old Globe a few years ago. And have always loved Little Shop of Horrors since I first saw the movie as a kid. Both of these roles are so iconic not only for their unique sensibilities, style, and stellar songs but also for the stamps made by Faith Prince and Ellen Green. When I first started working on each of them it was both thrilling and scary because of this. But I was reminded by our director of Guys and Dolls, Hunter Foster, to let go of the “icon” and keep my eye on the story we were telling and the journey each of these women were going on. It was completely freeing and allowed me to find, and keep finding, my Adelaide and Audrey. It is truly an honor to go on their journeys and tell their stories night after night. 

4.) Are there any shows that you have done in your career that will always be near and dear to your heart? 

42nd street will always hold such a special place in my heart! I remember seeing the revival when I was in middle school. I think it was my 2nd or 3rd time visiting New York City with my mom and grandma. We were there for about 5 days and on the first or second day of the trip we got rush tickets to see the show! I then begged my mom and grandma to take me to see the show again, as being in the front row meant I was not able to see anyone's feet as they were tapping. Thank you, Mom and Honey, for taking me that 2nd time. That was it for me. I was sold, 100 % in and wanted to do everything I had seen on that stage that night.

The summer after I graduated college, I got to play Peggy Sawyer at the Merry Go Round Playhouse for the first time. It was a total dream come true. I had dreamed about playing Peggy since I was probably 10 years old and had first listened to 42nd Street. My parents had purchased a big piece of ply-wood so I could tap in the house and not destroy the floors. I would dance to the opening number multiple times a week and then would make up what I thought the steps were in “We’re In the Money” and the “42nd Street Ballet”. Playing Peggy pushed me as a performer, and further solidified my love for the show, and for the “kid’s” - the ensemble is the heartbeat of what we do and that show celebrates it so much! After that I’ve had the opportunity to play Peggy two more times! If these bones would hold out, I would want to do it for forever, but on the other side would love to work my way through the other amazing female roles in that show. 

5.) What advice would you give young performers who want a career in this business? 

Work hard. Be kind. Respect others and respect yourself and your worth. What we do is as much about the craft as it is about the relationships we make. The learning never ends. Take advantage of all the people you may cross paths with in the future, soak up their stories, ask their advice, and pass on their history. Also, find the things that you love outside of “the business” - things that will bring you joy whether it be a book club with your friends or a side business that lights a fire under ya. Be open to those opportunities as you never know where they will lead.

Almost 4 years ago, a dear friend of mine asked me to sub for her at a wonderful non-profit Musical Theatre training program in Fairfield, CT - Broadway Method Academy. I am now the Artistic Director of the program and when I am not onstage myself, I get to work with the next generation of theatre artists. The business, no matter what side of it you are on, is a constant rollercoaster unique to each and everyone of us. Don’t compete for someone else’s coaster. Don’t compare the journey with your friends. However, cliche it might be, and however tough it might get, enjoy the ride as best you can. 

To learn more about Julie please visit her website at http://www.juliekavanagh.com, for information on her current shows please visit - https://theatreaspen.org and to learn more about The Broadway Method Academy make sure you visit - https://broadwaymethodacademy.org