Kevin Steele received raves as a song and dance man touring Broadway shows for 13 years. Fans still appreciate him, but now one at a time.
In junior high and high school near Chicago, Kevin sang and danced in school plays and show choir. As much as he loved the experience, his parents encouraged him to find a “real” career. He became a teacher of 4th and 5th grade in Plano, TX. But Broadway was still in his blood. He started a classroom theater group. He performed in musicals at a community theater and graded papers backstage.
3 years later, Kevin still longed to be in the theater. He made his move. “I said goodbye to my kids on a Friday and drove to Oklahoma City. At the end of the weekend, I’d been cast in 2 shows. I thought: OMG! I’ll be paid to do what I love. This could be the start of making it to New York.”
In Oklahoma City, Kevin met a choreographer who encouraged him to go to New York. “I kept worrying: What would my dad say?” The choreographer was so convinced of his talent, she told him if he didn’t land a job in New York, she’d hire him.
“It was one of those deathbed moments. Would I regret missing this opportunity on my deathbed? Of course I would. So I told my parents I needed to do this.” He headed to New York, auditioned, and got 2 job offers in the first week. His first show was “Gigi” at the State Theater of New Jersey, Paper Mill Playhouse.
“Somehow I got into the cast. A 14 year old girl was also in the cast. Nobody knew how to talk to kids. But I did and became friends with little Annie Hathaway.”
Having never taken a voice or dance class, Kevin says, “I felt like an imposter for about 10 years.” Still, one part led to the next. His brother, sister and parents showed up for all his tours. He saw the world, performing in Japan 3 times, in China and Thailand. “All on someone else’s dime. It was magical. I felt like I was living somebody else’s fantasy. Like they really meant to cast someone else.”
Detroiters have seen Kevin at the Fisher and Fox theaters. He’s played Nicely, Nicely Johnson in “Guys and Dolls,” Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He toured for 3 years in “Chicago” and got to know his idol, choreographer Bob Fosse.
Kevin was often in ensembles and understudied main roles. I asked how understudies remember their parts. In bigger shows, he said, they rehearse them once a week at a rehearsal.
Kevin’s “scariest moment” as an understudy occurred in Minneapolis. He was first cover for the Scarecrow, second for the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz.” He had only rehearsed the Scarecrow. The day of the performance he got a call in his hotel room: Come try on costumes. There was a snowstorm. The Tin Man and his first cover were stuck at LaGuardia.
“I showed up at the theater. My heart was pounding. I wanted to go into the bathroom and throw up. The show started at 7:30. At 7:00, the Tin Man and his first cover walked in the door. I collapsed with relief. Anything can happen with live theater. It’s what keeps you on your toes. And what I loved about it.”
Kevin pursued the Big Time for 13 years. By age 40, he’d accomplished “most of what I wanted to do.” He’d moved to New York. He’d played in many musicals, TV shows and films. The one thing he’d hadn’t achieved was performing at the TONY awards.
“I was getting older. I realized I’d reached an end point of my theater career. I wanted to leave on a high note. I’d missed a lot of weddings and birthdays. I wanted to settle down, develop a relationship.”
At age 40, Kevin entered a physical therapy doctorate program at Mercer U. in Atlanta. “From performing to sitting at a desk full time… almost killed me,” Kevin told the SRQ Herald Tribune. “But when I left the stage, I told myself, as much as you love this, you cannot look back.”
After 4 years, Kevin became a physical therapist in Sarasota. “I feel destined to be in this position. Physical therapy uses all the body knowledge and skills I’ve developed. I get to educate, inspire, heal, touch and empathize. The spotlight’s no longer on me. It’s on my patient. I don’t miss the stress of auditions or hearing a director say, ‘Sorry, kid. You’re not our type.’ Or waiting by the phone for a casting director to call. I enjoy being home at night with my partner. It’s not about me anymore, and I love that.”
My friend Marilyn is a patient of Kevin’s. And crazy about him. Now I know why.
Thanks, Kevin, for all you’ve done and do to move hearts, minds and bodies.
(And thanks, Carrie Seidman of the SRQ Herald Tribune, for your inspiring article on Kevin.)