All Hands On Deck

Young Victorian's 'Pirates of Penzance' reunites actor Kevin Kilner and two Hopkins lacrosse pals for a good cause.

July 08, 2004|By Kirsten Valle | Kirsten Valle,SUN STAFF

Kevin Kilner seems right at home onstage at the Bryn Mawr School's Centennial Hall, cracking jokes and belting out anthems of a pirate's life. It might be because the veteran actor has performed everywhere from the small screen to the silver screen to the Broadway stage. But it also could simply be that Kilner, a Baltimore native and lacrosse-star-turned-movie-star, has finally come home.

Kilner's role as the Pirate King in the Young Victorian Theatre Company's 34th annual production, The Pirates of Penzance (July 8-18), marks his Baltimore stage debut and the long-awaited reunion of three friends and three of Baltimore's greatest institutions: lacrosse, medicine and theater.

The audience for this rehearsal - mostly directors, crew members and families - is small, buzzing between the auditorium's slate-green walls. Included are Dr. Roger Blumenthal, a cardiologist and associate professor at Johns Hopkins, and Brian Goodman, a Baltimore attorney and general manager of the theater company for 27 years, who have known Kilner since their days at the Johns Hopkins University in the late 1970s. (Blumenthal was a sports information director who covered the lacrosse team that Kilner played on and Goodman managed.)

These friends look about as different as their careers suggest. Kilner is casually handsome, with copper hair, a beard that may or may not stick around for the performance, and the stature of, well, a defensive midfielder. He towers easily over Goodman, a man with striking eyes who sounds a lot bigger than he is. And Blumenthal is clearly a doctor, tall and serious-looking with friendly features and an even, deliberate voice.

Physical differences aside, Kilner, Blumenthal and Goodman are celebrating a common bond: the memory of Hopkins lacrosse coach Henry "Chic" Ciccarone, who died in 1988 at age 50 from heart disease. The July 10 performance of the paradoxical pirate adventure will benefit the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at Johns Hopkins, which Blumenthal founded in 1990. The benefit pays homage to the Hall of Famer who led the Blue Jays to three straight NCAA Championships in 1978, 1979 and 1980, and has drawn Kilner from Hollywood to cloudier, decidedly more humid Baltimore.

"Once a year I'd bump into Brian and once a year he'd ask if I'd play the Pirate King," he said.

Goodman credits his persuasion tactics. "I'm a trial lawyer," he said. "Finally I put on the full-court press. He couldn't say no." But Goodman hasn't always been so convincing. As one of the first to hear about Kilner's interest in acting, 25 years ago during a lacrosse bus ride, he was downright discouraging. "I thought he was crazy," he said. "The learning point from that story is, don't ever take advice from me."

Luckily, Kilner took a chance on an acting career he'd never planned. "I just assumed I'd go into business," he says, since his only starring roles had been on lacrosse fields at Dulaney High School and Hopkins. But a few dismal months as a banker and one closet of suits later, Kilner enrolled in a drama class. "I got bitten," he said. "I loved it."

From there, it was the kind of life change only forgiven post-college or mid-mid-life crisis. Kilner sold his car, quit his job and moved to New York. He was rejected by the bigwigs and relegated to waiting tables, but four years on a champion lacrosse team will teach a guy to persevere. He found an agent, took voice lessons - "I had to lose my Baltimore dialect, y'know, hon?" he jokes - and began a career that climbed from commercials to Broadway productions like The Glass Menagerie, acting with Julie Harris and a then-unknown Calista Flockhart.

The self-described "middle-class, working actor" has since racked up impressive credits, including roles in Steve Martin's Shopgirl and as Joan Cusack's husband in Raising Helen. Despite his success, Kilner hasn't let Hollywood claim his down-to-earth attitude. The show's choreographer, Christine Glazier, says the Pirates cast adores him. "He's wonderful," she says. "And I've lived in L.A. I know."

Still, why the trip cross-country for a community theater role? And why the weeks of preparation, including lessons to perfect the singing voice that Kilner hasn't used since his sixth-grade part in The Wind in the Willows?

He points out that Kevin Kline once won a Tony Award for his performance as the Pirate King - maybe it is a career move. "[Kilner] is perfect, physically, for the Pirate King role," Goodman says. He should know - the Young Victorian has exclusively produced Gilbert and Sullivan operettas for years. And yes, Kilner's voice is a little less crystalline than starring actors Troy Clark (the Major General) and Krista Adams Santilli and Heather Lockard, who alternate in the role of Mabel, but they're stiff competition. "Our singers are the finest you'll see in Baltimore this summer," Goodman boasts.

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