Chance, Chemistry, and Kyle Blair
by Anthony Chase
Having a Bloody Caesar with the Shaw Festival’s Sky Masterson
Kyle Blair is having a terrific season at the Shaw Festival. He’s in two popular shows, playing Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls and Cecil Graham in Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan. It’s his fourth season at the Shaw, and this time he’s also getting to spend a season with his boyfriend-turned-fiancé, Kyle Golemba, who is also a member of the Shaw acting ensemble.
Life is good!
As Sky Masterson, Blair plays a hardened gambler who falls in love with a Salvation Army doll. Based on Damon Runyon’s tales of Broadway, with a charming score by Frank Loesser and script by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, Guys and Dolls was selling so well at the Shaw that they added 15 performances to meet the demand, thereby extending the season clear through to November 3. This is great news for Western New Yorkers, especially after Labor Day when traffic across the border begins to ease up, and travel along the Niagara Parkway becomes especially beautiful. We may think of the Shaw as a summer event, but the festival continues full tilt well into the fall.
“We get emails all the time, telling us how well the season is going,” confirms Blair over cocktails at Zee’s Grill, across from the Festival Theatre. He’s just walked off stage after the second show on a two-show Saturday. Despite the exertion, the young actor is far from worn-out.
“I never go to sleep right away,” he explains. “I need to wind down.”
To my delight, he orders that most Canadian of cocktails, a Caesar. Invented in Calgary, Alberta, it’s a sort of Canadian Bloody Mary: vodka and Clamato (a blend of tomato juice and clam juice), hot sauce, and Worcestershire. This guy is so Canadian, he doesn’t even know how Canadian that is.
“You don’t have Caesars?” he says.
“Not really, and we make them badly.”
“I had no idea.”
With his boyishly Anglo good looks, Blair’s resume is brimming with juvenile leads: Billy Lawlor in 42nd Street, Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance, Will Parker in Oklahoma!, Jack in Into the Woods, Lucentio in the Taming of the Shrew, Ambrose Kemper in Hello Dolly—all at Stratford. Also Toronto appearances as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, Robbie in A Man of No Importance, and John in john & jen.
I ask the obvious question.
“So Sky Masterson is a bit of a departure for you?”
“It is!” he say. “I was surprised and delighted when I was offered the role. It’s a really cool challenge. I haven’t been able to rely on my usual bag of tricks, which is a healthy thing.”
As Sky, Blair gets to sing “Luck Be a Lady,” and shares the duet “I’ll Know.” This is the third time he has appeared in Guys in Dolls.
“The first time was at the National Art Center in Ottawa, and I played Calvin, who plays the trombone. Then last winter I played Sarah Brown.”
“It was a gender-bender production at Talk Is Free Theatre in Barrie, north of Toronto,” he explains. “The things they do there are risky and the audience was up for it. The biggest challenge was a student matinee on a weekday morning. There we were in blue-collar Barrie. It wasn’t a send-up or anything, but we were in full drag.”
I contemplate this. It gives Frank Loesser’s anthem to love, “I’ll Know When My Love Comes Along,” a whole new meaning. I feel certain that Blair’s rendition of “If I Were a Bell” was a revelation.
“It’s a wonderful song,” he agrees, “and if I ever do a cabaret act, I’ll have an excuse to sing it again.”
By all reports, Blair was marvelous as Sarah, and resembled a young Maggie Smith. He is probably the only actor ever to play both roles professionally, and he did it in a single season!
Still, given a choice between playing Sarah and Sky, the actor concedes, “I prefer wearing the pants.” He also reveals that he resisted giving pointers to Elodie Gillett who plays Sarah in the Shaw production, even though when he walked into the rehearsal hall, he knew all of her lines and none of his own.
“It has been interesting doing the two productions back to back,” says Blair, who is 35 years old but looks about 15. “My biggest challenge was trusting the weight of Sky Masterson. I worried that I did not physically embody the character, but I read the Damon Runyon stories in preparation and I found a younger, more innocent-looking guy than you usually see.”
Happily, Blair knew when his own love came along. He met Kyle Golemba four years ago in Winnipeg, where both were in a production of The Drowsy Chaperone. They’ve been engaged for four months.
I jest that I didn’t know there were any gay people in Winnipeg. Without hesitation, Blair tosses the joke back: “We were the only two. That’s how we met.”
In his debut season at the Shaw, Golemba is playing Calvin in Guys and Dolls and appears in Major Barbara. (As with Sarah Brown, Blair says he resisted coaching his own fiancé in a role he has played himself, giving hope that this relationship will endure). The couple own a house in Stratford where Blair has done eight seasons.
Lucky is the actor who can score so many seasons at two of the world’s most prestigious theater festivals.
“Stratford and Shaw feel like you’ve won the lottery when you have a season,” says Blair. “The quality is good. The support is great. We have Alexander [technique] coaches and voice coaches and dialect coaches. We’re here for eight or nine months. The typical Equity contract is just six weeks! The Shaw breeds a strong sense of repertory. We feel a strong sense of family here. We are sincerely invested.”
The newly announced performances have opened up a block of tickets to Guys and Dolls, which was sold out. In addition, Lady Windermere’s Fan; Matthew Barber’s Enchanted April; W. Somerset Maugham’s Our Betters; Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara; Brian Friel’s Faith Healer; John Murrell’s adaptation of Shaw’s Geneva, Peace in Our Time: A Comedy; the Craig Lucas-Adam Guettel musical The Light in the Piazza; and the lunchtime offering, Susan Glaspell’s Trifles and Eugene O’Neill’s A Wife for a Life, all continue into October. See details or buy tickets online at www.shawfest.com or call 1-800-511-7429.
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