Norwalk boy to make Broadway debut

February 8, 2009 9:34:02 AM PST
Kyle Brenn stood in the darkened house of the Ben Franklin Theatre, singing along and waving his arms like a conductor as more than two dozen children rehearsed the musical he had started writing two years ago - when he was 9 years old. The production, "Silent Knight," is the second musical Kyle, 11, a Marvin Elementary School fifth-grader, has created for South Norwalk's Crystal Theatre.

After the show's brief run with performances on a recent Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, Kyle will step out of the darkness and into the bright lights of Broadway. He soon will start rehearsals for the revival of "West Side Story," opening March 19 at the Palace Theatre in New York City.

Kyle is sharing a new role with another boy in the musical, which is radically different from other productions of "West Side Story." Kyle and his mother, Alicia, have been asked to keep quiet about the details.

Kyle, who counts theater composer Andrew Lloyd Webber as an influence, had never seen "West Side Story" or heard its music before auditioning. Since then, he said, he is "getting to really like (Leonard) Bernstein," who composed the musical that debuted on Broadway in 1957.

Kyle has been interested in music since he was a baby, his mother said. She exposed him to classical music early, and before he was 2 years old, he could name instruments just by hearing them.

When Kyle was younger, people told Alicia Brenn to get him an agent. Instead, she waited while Kyle honed his acting skills in several shows at Crystal Theatre, starring in artistic director Cheryl Kemeny's original productions. He also started taking piano lessons at 7, and two years ago penned his first show, "A Pirate's Tale," which was staged in 2007.

Eventually, Kyle started auditioning for Broadway shows, including "Tarzan" and "Mary Poppins," and began working with children's talent agent Nancy Carson. At the end of 2007, he had a role in the off-Broadway musical.

Though he is excited about his Broadway debut, Kyle's face lights up when he talks about "Silent Knight." The musical is about a girl who attempts to save her sister, who has been kidnapped by an evil king, by disguising herself as a boy and becoming a knight. Kyle wrote the music and lyrics himself, though he had help with the script from Betsy Simpson, a Crystal Theatre alumna and voice major at Boston Conservatory.

Kemeny also has been a mentor to Kyle, who calls Crystal Theatre "a home away from home."

While Crystal Theatre has turned out talented performers - last year, alumnus Robin de Jesus was nominated for a Tony Award for acting in Broadway's "In the Heights" - Kyle's behind-the-scenes work is unique, Kemeny said.

"Lots of kids write," she said. "The difference is Kyle comes to me with a completed script. The music is written, with all of the piano parts."

Carson, of the Carson-Adler Agency, who has represented Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Britney Spears, called Kyle a "remarkable child."

"I have a lot of extraordinary kids, but he's extraordinary in a very unique way," said Carson, who has been in the industry for more than 30 years. "He's a little Mozart."

"West Side Story" opens for previews Feb. 23, and Kyle was in Washington, D.C., for several weeks in January for the show's pre-Broadway engagement at the National Theatre.

Kyle said he enjoys performing and composing, and hopes to do both when he gets older.

"It's just all aspects of theater I love," he said. "It's just so intriguing how it's all put together."

Working at Crystal Theatre and being able to see his own shows performed has helped keep Kyle grounded as he lives the hectic life of a child performer, Alicia Brenn said.

"The thing that I'm in awe of more than anything is how Kyle is so unaffected," Brenn said.

Kyle is at work on his next musical, which he considers "more real" than his stories about pirates and knights.

It's "about music," Kyle said. "About a kid who likes to compose."