Q&A: Columbia alum brings the stage to the screen in ‘New Faces Sing Broadway 1987’

By Summer Hoagland-Abernathy, Opinions Editor

Courtesy/Castlelight Productions

Kelan M. Smith, a Columbia alum, is a “New Face” in theatre, but he has been around the block a few times.

Smith graduated with a bachelor’s degree in musical theatre performance in 2020 and has been featured in shows around Chicago like BoHo Theatre Company’s “Bright Star” and The House Theatre of Chicago’s “Verboten.”

Starting Nov. 6, his performance in another Chicago production, titled “New Faces Sing Broadway 1987,” will be available to stream with Porchlight Music Theatre’s virtual tickets.

Filmed in early October with no live audience, this cabaret of Broadway’s 1987 hits was a new kind of theatre for Smith. He gave the Chronicle his song and dance on his experience as an up-and-coming actor during the pandemic:

THE CHRONICLE: How did you get from Columbia to “New Faces Sing Broadway 1987”?

Smith: My first semester freshman year, the first show that I did at Columbia was “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” In that show, I was basically an ensemble character, but I also played the bass guitar. And in that show, music director Spencer Meeks really liked my work, and they asked me to work on a couple of productions that they were directing in the city professionally. So pretty much right [out of] the gate, I started working in the city. I did a lot of [professional] shows while in school, so I was very fortunate.

What classics are you singing in “New Faces”?

I have a solo called “Leaning on a Lamppost” from “Me and My Girl.” That’s sort of a cute, romantic song about a guy in love, who’s waiting for this girl … and singing [about her] to the police officer who comes by that thinks he looks suspicious. … And then, I’m in a trio from “Les Miserables” called “Drink With Me,” and that was a more somber piece, where I’m playing guitar as well.

How did it feel to perform again after months without it?

It was honestly kind of amazing for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest reasons being that performers haven’t really been able to perform hardly at all during this time. And so it was really electrifying to be able to get to perform again … even though it was only a few people that we were singing in front of. The opportunity to essentially perform in a musical film was a really cool and really unique opportunity.

You aren’t hearing any reactions—you’re not getting any sort of applause or laughter. But there’s also another level of enjoyment that I get out of performing in front of a camera because … there’s certain choices that you would make onstage performance-wise that you wouldn’t make in front of a camera.

What advice would you give to aspiring actors trying to break into the business?

There’s no one correct way. Obviously, you have to get your foot in the door, that’s the most important thing. So showing up to audition for [shows] is kind of a necessity. Otherwise, getting your foot in the door anywhere really is a good step—auditioning for everything you can in the city, trying to get yourself out there so that when you’re going into the audition, ideally people behind the table already have a sense of who you are and can see the work that you’ve done. And just making sure that you’re somebody that people want to work with is a big thing.