Kevyn Morrow knows the most realistic goal a performer can aspire to is to becoming a working artist. By that measure, this veteran of nine Broadway productions, numerous Off-Broadway and regional theatre shows, and guest starring roles in feature films and television series is the consummate journeyman. Onstage, his decades-long, credits-filled journey has intersected with some of American musical theatre’s most iconic shows, right up to his current co-starring role as Hades in the national touring company of Hadestown.
He’s seldom without a gig.
“I am always working, which I’m very proud of. I’ve been blessed in that respect,” he said by phone from Tucson, Ariz., earlier this year, where the Hadestown tour landed only a week after stopping in his hometown of Omaha, Neb., the place where he got his start in the performing arts. “I have a good life. I’m not missing anything.”
Audiences hoping to catch Morrow in the Tony Award-winning show, with music, lyrics, and book by Anaïs Mitchell and direction by Rachel Chavkin, shouldn’t sleep on it. A working actor like Morrow only stays with a show for so long. He’s contracted through October, but another opportunity could arise before then. He’s been with Hadestown since the tour’s start last fall, in a role originated by Patrick Page.
Having done it all, from ensemble member and understudy to featured player, from musicals to straight dramas (A Man for All Seasons, The Boys in the Band, The Lion in Winter), Morrow takes opportunity as it comes. He’s been nominated for London’s Olivier (as Coalhouse Walker in a West End mounting of Ragtime), D.C.’s Helen Hayes, and Philadelphia’s Barrymore awards. He’s worked with legends like Michael Bennett, Michael Peters, Patti LuPone, Leslie Uggams, and Sandy Duncan. He earned his Equity card on A Chorus Line and his SAG card working with Sylvester Stallone and John Travolta on Stayin’ Alive.
Though his work runs the gamut, he’s best known as a musical theatre actor, with Hadestown his latest showcase. In a career not short of milestones—in addition to the aforementioned A Chorus Line, he was an original cast member of both Dreamgirls and Smokey Joe’s Cafe—he rates this jazzy take on the myth of Orpheus among his top experiences.
“It’s one of the highlights for me,” said Morrow. “I really enjoy this role. He’s a challenging, complicated character. It’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to sing in my natural range. It’s extremely comfortable to sing out of this bass-baritone place. The closest prior to that vocally would have been doing Coalhouse, which is a baritone. But this being written bass-baritone has been a joy.”
Tours can be both exhilarating and exhausting, but, as the pragmatic Morrow noted, “I do have the advantage of having toured before when I was younger.” That said, he admitted, “I do think tour life is for the young. I am the oldest cast member.”
Playing a netherworld ruler like Hades calls for gravity, and Morrow freely lends his hard-earned maturity and wisdom to the role as well as to the company.
“Because I am older and have toured previously,” Morrow said, “I don’t feel the need to do all the things you feel the necessity to do when you’re young. I don’t need to be out at a club or somewhere every night or every other night, hanging out. I can be just as happy sitting in the hotel room or in the park reading a book or going to a museum.”
And there is compensation, he said, for the “taxing and tiring“ grind touring entails.
“The joy of it is taking this particular story across the country at this particular time,” he said. “The show is about hope for me. I think in America we need to have this feeling of hope and love to survive because of what we all have been through the past two years. It’s an uplifting show in that respect, even though it is a Greek tragedy.”
Indeed, that the show has been among the first live theatre offerings in many tour cities since COVID shut down Broadway makes it for more than the usual love fest between players and fans.
“The energy coming from audiences and the energy we give back is such a palpable feeling,” Morrow marveled. “They are dying for us to come—they can’t wait to have live theatre back. That’s been one of the really positive things about being on tour. Another positive thing has been the young people I work with in this incredible cast. I’m feeling very fortunate to have them with me. They’re extremely talented. I’m learning from them and I hope they’re getting something from me.”
The veteran actor is no stranger to passing on his experience, as one who has taught master classes in his hometown and statewide through Omaha Performing Arts.
“I think it helps any actor grow by learning the different categories an actor can fill,” Morrow said. “You start off as a swing, then become a member of the ensemble, then you understudy, and you’re able to take over a role. Then maybe you go back to being an ensemble member and an understudy again. Then you’re featured and perhaps even become a star. It gives you an idea of the responsibility each one of those positions has in the production. It’s realizing you can’t do one without the other; you can’t do your show without your crew or the producers. Everyone relies on everyone else. Everyone is an integral cog to make this wheel turn. I think it’s important for actors to understand and see that. Fortunately, I was able to experience that. I think it has helped me as a performer.”
When working with young people who may aspire to a theatre career, he said, “I try not to sugarcoat it. I tell them what the real deal is. It’s a lot of work. It’s not what you may think it is seeing it on YouTube or Instagram. I try to be straight-up with them and I think they appreciate that. I also try to let them know the ups and downs I’ve had.”
He invites questions. One he gets a lot, he said, is, Has it always been easy for you? “Oh gosh, no,” he tells them. “There’s been lots of disappointment along the way.” He said he frames it like this: “If there’s nothing else you can see yourself doing but theatre, then go for it. You’ve got to have the passion. You’ve got to see it. If you can’t see it, then it’s not there.”
Trusting his instincts has served him well. A talented triple threat, he studied at a Joffrey Ballet summer workshop in New York, but upon seeing his first Broadway shows he fully committed himself to the theatre. Among the artists he was grateful to have worked with, American musical theatre giant Michael Bennett, whose death was 35 years ago this month, ranks particularly high.
“I thought of him as being magic,” said Morrow. “The reason I say magic is that I watched him work with the person playing the role on the line and both understudies, and he would direct each differently depending on their personality and get the same response out of them. To me that was magic: He knew what that person needed to hear or what he needed to say to them for him to elicit the emotional response he needed to get. And it would be natural or organic for them to feel it that way. It didn’t feel manufactured at all.”
As a member of A Chorus Line‘s cast upon its historic closing in 1990—until Cats unseated it, it had been the longest-running show in Broadway history—Morrow said that carrying that phenomenon to the finish line was an emotional ride.
“The originals came back to see us, and to, in a way, put a blessing on us that we were able to carry on their legacy,” Morrow said. “That was heartwarming as well as exhilarating. It was an iconic moment. We were leaving that legacy for what we thought was the last time, until the revival 20 years or so later.“
Morrow’s instincts still guide him when deliberating over a role.
“Quite often it’s a gut thing,” he said. “If something I’m reading or auditioning for scares me, then I know it’s right for me. It’s a challenge and I enjoy the challenge because I haven’t done that yet, and I need to do that. I need to figure out how to do it.”
Morrow has been around the business long enough to have seen it make strides in terms of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
“Earlier in my career I turned down roles because they were stereotypical,” he said. “In more recent years and for the bulk of my career, I would say the characters I have been able to play have been positive Black images and definitely three-dimensional.”
Some roles he’s the chance to play, he noted, were conceived as white or traditionally cast with white actors “even if they didn’t have to be,” said Morrow. “They were already three-dimensional roles, but I was able to bring myself to them, not necessarily as a Black actor, but simply as an actor who just happens to be a Black man.”
He cites Hades as an example.
“It’s not that he has to be white, it’s not that he has to be Black—he can be anything,” Morrow noted. “But the concept that people have of the role is of Patrick Page, who happens to be a white man. But the role had been previously played by a Black man in workshops. Most people don’t know that.”
He’s guardedly optimistic that representation gains will lead to more advancement, ever mindful that traditionally disenfranchised voices are only now being given a platform commensurate with their talents and contributions.
“I think there will be a ways to go for a while, not just in terms of Black actors but people of color in general,” Morrow acknowledged. “I appreciate the efforts being made and I think we’re heading in the right direction. I do think it’s long past due. But I’m glad it is happening at all. The strides made from the time I started doing theatre until now have been incredible. But there needs to be more, and there will be more.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the strides have been tried during this pandemic time when Broadway, the theatre in general, and the arts suffered,” he added. “My hope is once we are able to get through this pandemic in a solid way, all these strides will not have been lost, will continue to grow, and things will keep moving forward so that the voices will still be heard and more people of color will be at the table.”
This week Morrow’s voice can be heard in Reno, Nev.; the following week the road to Hades goes through in Salt Lake City; and after that, Costa Mesa, Calif., Las Vegas, Denver, San Antonio, Austin, and Tulsa. Better go and get your suitcase packed—guess it’s time to go!
Leo Adam Biga (he/him) is an Omaha-based freelance writer and the author of the 2016 book Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.
Support American Theatre: a just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. Please join us in this mission by making a donation to our publisher, Theatre Communications Group. When you support American Theatre magazine and TCG, you support a long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!