Marcus High School's Online Newspaper

The Marquee

Marcus High School's Online Newspaper

The Marquee

Marcus High School's Online Newspaper

The Marquee

Under the spotlight

Broadway tour takes former sophomore across the country

Former student Kenzie Rees pulls back the curtains to peer out at 2,800 velvet chairs. It’s grander than any other theater she’s performed in.

It’s opening night at the Landmark Theater in Syracuse, New York, and the curtains are about to draw open. They showcase her new reality — she’s made it onto a Broadway show.

Her new reality consists of more hours of rehearsal. It’s cost seeing her friends every day at school. While they walk from class to class, Kenzie is about to travel from city to city, performing in one of the most beloved Broadway shows of all time: “Annie”.

Despite being far from her loved ones, Kenzie continues to have as positive mindset. Photo provided by Kenzie Rees

Like she does before every show, she shakes out her arms and legs to calm her nerves, and steps onto stage. The lights overhead are piercing, shining bright on her orphan costume. 

It feels like the world is lighting up, just for her. 

***

Unlike most child Broadway stars, Kenzie didn’t grow up on stage. Instead, she watched her older sister perform in school productions. In sixth grade, Kenzie followed her lead by auditioning for Downing Middle School’s production of Cinderella. She earned a spot in the ensemble.

“At that time, I wasn’t taking it seriously at all,” Kenzie said. “I was just kind of doing it for fun.”

But as she landed more roles, she grew her passion for musical theatre.

“I started branching out and doing other outside community productions,” Kenzie said. “I had known that I had wanted to be more serious for acting.”

Kenzie played Amanda Thripp in the Firehouse Theatre’s production of “Matilda” and Marta in “The Sound of Music” at the Dallas Theater Center. Once she reached Marcus, she worked on the set crew of “Our Town.” 

Theatre teacher Denise Tooch still remember’s Kenzie’s unique way of playing each character she was given. 

“She’s full of energy,” Tooch said. “She brings her own flair to the character.”

Each character she plays comes with a unique vocal register. Suzie Ribb, Kenzie’s private vocal coach, helps her learn the right range for each audition. Having worked together for about a year, Ribb sees Kenzie’s toughness and drive as some of her best qualities.

“She knew what she wanted to do, and she put it in place for herself,” Ribb said. “She was very receptive to everything I had her work on.”

Ribb admires Kenzie for making opportunities happen for herself.

“A lot of kids have big dreams, but they don’t have that internal drive to get them there,” Ribb said. “She sees what she wants. She sets her mind on it.”

But the acting industry comes with a great deal of rejection — and discrimination.

When she started searching for roles, Kenzie saw plenty of roles call for Caucasians only. The roles she could go for often clumped other minorities together— as an Asian actress, this made landing roles even harder.

“It’s usually some sort of Asian or all ethnicities,” Kenzie said. “I didn’t even realize that this was a thing.”

When Kenzie played Marta in “Sound of Music” at Dallas Theater Center, she didn’t know how important a factor race was for casting — until another Asian cast member stopped her to talk.

It really opened my eyes to the work that we still have to do with diversity.

— Kenzie Rees

“He said to me, ‘I cried the first day that I saw you there because I would have never thought that I would see another Asian little girl in this cast,’” Kenzie said. “It really opened my eyes to the work that we still have to do with diversity.”

But Kenzie and her mother, Karey Rees, stayed optimistic. One day, Karey found an open call audition on Facebook for “Annie” on Broadway.

After she sent casters an audition video for the role of Annie or another orphan, she flew to New York City for a callback audition. The casting directors held a series of auditions for three days — and she made it past every round.

She was told they would reach out to her by the next week, but for months, all she heard was silence. 

***

One summer day, Kenzie stepped out of the shower, all bundled up in her bathrobe. She  began to get ready for lunch when her mother burst through her door with a camera. 

Frantically, she yelled for their family to come sit with Kenzie, who didn’t understand what was happening.

As they sat down, Kenzie’s mother aimed the camera in her direction and finally read the email with the good news — she had made the cast for “Annie” on Broadway. Over the course of months, she was to play the orphan Duffy. 

“I was super excited,” Kenzie said. “I thought it was completely out of the picture.”

***

The role of Duffy sets up great opportunities for the future. “Stranger Things” star Sadie Sink held the same role in 2013, and many of her costars held previous roles on Broadway. 

“I would have never thought that I could have been able to do this a few months ago,” Kenzie said. “That’s insane. It’s such a big deal.”

Kenzie wasn’t originally the biggest “Annie” fan. But as somebody who was adopted young, Kenzie can see that she and Duffy have plenty in common in terms of their past.

Kenzie performs at Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, New York as the debut show of “Annie” tour. Photo provided by Kenzie Rees

“It’s kind of cool that I get to be an orphan,” Kenzie said. “I also, at one point when I was a little girl, was an orphan.”

Duffy is a loud and strong little girl. She wants to be a famous singer when she grows up, making her dreams similar to Kenzie’s.

Kenzie also thinks she can see some of her demeanor in Duffy.

When you’re onstage with the entire cast, you just feel the energy.

— Kenzie Rees

“Duffy is the oldest orphan, and I definitely relate to that because I am the oldest kid,” Kenzie said. “She’s also one of the toughest.”

Kenzie’s toughness and persistence have helped her transition to a brand new environment. Many actors spend time working in off-Broadway productions before making it to Broadway, but Kenzie jumped right in from community theaters. Working with professional acting and vocal coaches, she was able to prepare for a more fast-paced workplace.

“The way they do rehearsals is completely different from local theaters,” Kenzie said. “It’s definitely way more professional.”

The new stages — The Smith Center, Dolby Theater — are far from the local and school stages Kenzie used to act on. They come with more particular stage directions and acting cues than she was used to.

“It was so insane because we were rehearsing in this tiny little rehearsal room for so long,” Kenzie said. “It didn’t even click that I was on a national tour.”

Work days with rehearsals are from about 11 A.M. to 11 P.M., so she’s transferred fully to online school. Even though she’s grateful for this opportunity, and her mom is going on tour with her, she misses the people she left back at home, especially some close friends she has made along the way.

Firehouse Theatre actress Almaz Clawson played Lavender alongside Kenzie in “Matilda”. Between doing yoga backstage and singing together onstage, the two became fast friends during the run of the show.

 Now, Almaz is proud that Kenzie made it.

“She takes the work very seriously and performs well,” Almaz said. “We really miss her.”

Along with her friends, there are a few people Kenzie misses more than anything — like her father. 

“I don’t get to see my dad because he stayed at home,” Kenzie said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my family.” 

Being away from home and loved ones is difficult, but all Kenzie can do is look forward to performing across the nation with her castmates.

Opening night at Syracuse was just the beginning of a national tour that will reach over a dozen states. Kenzie will take the performance to cities like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, and somewhere a little closer to home — Fort Worth. 

While Kenzie does get a bit nervous about acting in such famous cities, she feels that nothing beats the sense of performing. 

“There’s something about theater,” Kenzie said. “When you’re onstage with the entire cast, you just feel the energy.”

***

As Kenzie sits on the plane to the next city, she looks out the window and reminisces. Thousands of miles yet to be traveled, and each one brings her closer to her next show.

In the air, she can physically see how far she has come and how far she will go as an actor. She is leaving behind her loved ones, but she is also leaving a lasting impression on her audiences — and that is her goal. 

“As an actor…you’re always fighting to get to the top,” Kenzie said. “It’s going to be hard, and you’re going to have rejection, but never stop believing in yourself.”

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Raksha Jayakumar, Managing Editor
Raksha (she/her) is excited for her second year on staff as Managing Editor! She is a huge swiftie, meaning she has good taste (reputation is top-tier). She loves everybody on staff and is super duper excited to work with them all. <3 

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