Tari Kelly Takes a Journey Home to Madison with ‘Anastasia the Musical’
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: Tari Kelly as Countess Lily and Edward Staudenmayer as Vlad (both in center). Photo by Matthew Murphy.
The Broadway touring production of Anastasia the Musical’s stop in Madison will have an extra special meaning for Countess Lily. The week of shows, July 30 – Aug. 4 at Overture Center for the Arts, will mark the first time Madison native Tari Kelly performs in her hometown as a professional actress.
“I’m excited for everyone in the cast to see where I grew up because I brag about it all the time,” Kelly says. “Since my mom still lives in the house I grew up in, there are people I haven’t seen since I was a kid coming to see the show who will get to see me do the thing I always said I was going to do.”
Kelly caught the acting bug from her first musical, Madison Theatre Guild’s Anything Goes, as a shy 13-year-old. She recalls how the fun and inviting theater folks helped her break out of her shell, and she couldn’t get enough. Kelly started taking singing and acting lessons soon after and knew that is what she wanted to pursue. She graduated from Madison’s East High School and studied at Virginia Davis School of Dance.
No stranger to life on the road, Kelly also appeared in touring productions of Beauty and the Beast, Show Boat and Little Shop of Horrors. She describes the biggest challenge of touring as keeping the work fresh each performance.
“I’ve been in the ensemble and that’s a little more of a challenge to not check out and think about what you are going to eat for dinner,” Kelly jokes. “When you are playing a part you are pretty much concentrated every night and I liken it to a type of meditation. I am able to just focus and tell the story and stay in the moment.”
The homegrown Madison talent’s Broadway credits include Groundhog Day, Something Rotten!, Anything Goes, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Boy from Oz (which she starred in alongside Hugh Jackman) and Show Boat.
Kelly says landing the role of Countess Lily was the quickest turnaround she has ever had with an audition. She describes her callback with songwriters Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who also collaborated on Seussical, Ragtime and Once on This Island, as surreal.
“Sometimes I pinch myself when I think about it,” Kelly says. “To think I am working with these legends and people who have written these incredible works of art.”
Although book writer Terrance McNally didn’t attend auditions, Kelly met him when he saw the show in Providence, Rhode Island. She was thrilled to receive positive feedback from McNally, Flaherty and Ahrens about her interpretation of the role.
“It’s incredible to get that kind of response because they wrote it and are happy with how you brought it to life,” Kelly says.
Countess Lily provides comedic relief to Anastasia, which follows the tale of Anya, an amnesiac orphan who travels from Russia to France in the 1920s in search of family and answers to the mystery of her past. Along her journey the 18-year-old finds a charming conman and lovable ex-aristocrat who believes she may be the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov, missing since the start of the Russian Revolution.
Countess Lily Malevsky-Malevitch is the goofy Russian aristocrat living in Paris with the Dowager Empress. Lily rekindles an old flame with Vlad Popov, the ex-aristocrat Anya encounters on her journey. Kelly says she relates to Lily’s fun-loving personality.
“A lot of my friends who have seen the show were like, ‘did they write this part for you?,’" Kelly says with a laugh. “The creative team really let me do my own thing with it too. They never told me to be like the original actress who played Lily in the Broadway show (Caroline O’Connor) or the woman who replaced her (Vicki Lewis). My own version of Lily is very much like me and how I would react in those situations.”
The Broadway touring production of ‘Anastasia the Musical’ runs July 30 – Aug. 4 at the Overture Center for the Arts. For tickets call the box office at (608) 258-4141 or visit overture.org.