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Lee's Summit Teen Reflects on Broadway Debut

Elaine Stritch and Katherine McNamara in "A Little Night Music" on Broadway.
photo: courtesy of Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Elaine Stritch and Katherine McNamara in "A Little Night Music" on Broadway.

Many Kansas City theater fans visit New York every year to catch shows before they tour or are produced by local companies. Those heading there this month have the opportunity to see the revival of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music," starring two of the theater's most revered performers, Elaine Stritch and Bernadette Peters, as mother and daughter. And four times a week, playing the youngest member of that clan, is Lee's Summit native Katherine McNamara.

By Steve Walker


Kansas City, MO – KCUR's Steve Walker caught up with Katherine McNamara and her mother, Ursula, the day before Thanksgiving to talk about the experience.

The Wednesday matinee audiences in New York's theater district have yet to start gathering for their 2 o'clock show.

Inside the Walter Kerr Theatre on West 48th Street, where the musical "A Little Night Music" has been running since last December, 15-year-old Katherine McNamara and her mother, Ursula, are sitting upstairs in a corner of the mezzanine to talk about how Katherine got the acting bug that took her from a local community theater production of "The King and I" to, four years later, playing Bernadette Peters' daughter on Broadway.

"For a long time when I was younger, I was a ballet dancer and a softball player, and out of a fluke encounter, when I was 10 years old, we ran into a family friend who was directing a community theater production who said, 'Why don't you come audition? We need a dancer, and we know she's a dancer,'" says Katherine. "So I auditioned and ended up getting a part and I couldn't stop it from there. I loved it too much."

The next couple of years found McNamara on many Kansas City stages, from the Coterie's "The Happy Elf" to the Kansas City Repertory Theatre's "A Christmas Story," with stops at Starlight and The New Theatre in between. Word got around that she had that something, and she recalls the whirlwind process that began in January 2010.

"Somebody heard about me (in Kansas City) and said, 'Hey, you need to look at this girl for "A Little Night Music,"' and they called and said, 'We need you out here in 2 days, and here's your material,'" says Katherine. "So two days later, my dad and I flew to NYC and I did my audition. I few hours later, I did my callback, then about 40 minutes later, we were at LaGuardia getting ready to fly back to KC and I got the phone call that I got the part and had to be back in NYC in a week to start rehearsals."

Katherine's father, Evan, is ex-military, so the family was used to moving to new cities with little notice. Still, her mother, Ursula, recalls what was reeling in her head as she and Katherine drove east.

"I didn't believe it when it happened at all. I was in shock," says Ursula. "You think you always want what's best for your child but she's just my kid; I never thought something like this would happen. Her first trip to New York, she lands this incredible job. So her second time to NYC we're actually moving there. We literally locked the door on our house and left, packing enough clothes for 6 months."

Six months has turned into 11, and the experience has been what Katherine's mother calls a master class in acting, as many of her scenes playing Fredrika are with the character's grandmother, played by Angela Lansbury, in the prior cast, and Elaine Stritch in the current one.

CLIP: Elaine Stritch sings "Liaisons"

Katherine says she and Stritch, who at 83 still brings audiences to their feet, have struck up quite a friendship.

"It was the day before my birthday," says Katherine. "And her dresser said, 'Oh, here she is enjoying her last day of being 14,' and Elaine said, 'Oh, the last day of 14 is nothing. The first day of 15 is when things start to happen.' (laughs). I love Elaine so much. She's wise and funny and an amazing woman and I'm so happy to have her in my life."

Katherine and her mother agree that, after the production closes on January 9, 2011, there's nothing definite on the horizon, but nor is there anything off-limits.

Check here for more about "A Little Night Music" on Broadway.

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Since 1998, Steve Walker has contributed stories and interviews about theater, visual arts, and music as an arts reporter at KCUR. He's also one of Up to Date's regular trio of critics who discuss the latest in art, independent and documentary films playing on area screens.
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