Genius in action: Cheryl Kemeny
Published 11:55 am, Friday, April 15, 2011
Anyone who knows about or is interested in children's theater in Fairfield County knows about Cheryl Kemeny. She is one of the founders of Crystal Theatre, an award-winning learning and performance opportunity for children from kindergarten through high school. If they don't know about her, they don't know what they're missing.
Of course, there are other fine groups for young people, but Crystal Theatre is unique in many ways. Kemeny writes musical shows, in fact, she has written about 40 of them, and she writes them for the performers she has. Along with a staff of assistants, many of whom are "graduates" of Crystal Theatre, as is Samantha Kulish, who teaches the very young children's classes, she holds year-round classes and camps, in music theater and acting, and writes, or adapts an existing show for the talent she has available, and these young people work! Everyone works, because everyone has a part, from chorus to lead. They learn the discipline every performer has to have, and when they leave for college, many go on, and build on what they've learned at Crystal Theatre. The casts of high school musical productions, and other suitable outlets, are studded with performers trained by Kemeny. She has written two musicals based on the rich history of Norwalk itself, which were sponsored by the city, and the first of her "American Dream" trilogy, "Ellis Island" received the Moss Hart award in the youth division, and since then, the second one, "Living the American Dream" and her adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" have won honorable mentions.
The first of her musicals, "Forgiving Father," was written in 1977 when she was in charge of the youth music program at the Saugatuck Congregational Church in Westport, which was where we met. That was followed by "A Spinning Tale," a musical setting of "Rumpelstiltskin, which wrote with her sister, Alexandrea, which enjoyed a run off-Broadway in New York.
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Kemeny, of Hungarian descent, was born and raised in Norwalk, went to Norwalk High School, where she achieved the highest SAT score ever for a young woman. She went on the Hartt College with a major in voice and opera, and then she went to Hungary and studied voice and opera at the Franz Lizst Academy. She sang several major roles in the mezzo-soprano repertory including Dorabella in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte," and Cherubino in "The Marriage of Figaro."
Her career took a different turn back in the United States. She and her equally accomplished sister formed a club act. Kemeny writes most of their songs, and in addition to engagements in clubs and resorts, they took their act on USO tours to the Far East, the Mediterranean and Greenland, for which they received several commendations.
In 2008 and 2009, musical play"Cleopatra -- A Life Unparalleled," was presented in New York, and most recently, "Hungarian Nights," for which she drew on her ancestry, has attracted the attention of the Hungarian community in New York. Kemeny's father is an accomplished violinist, and in addition to everything else, the two sisters performed with him in programs of Hungarian music.
"Hungarian Nights" is actually an operetta, which Kemeny wrote with her husband, Marriner Pezza. They made several trips to Hungary to do research for the show, and drink in the atmosphere and cultural roots. One of the fruits of these trips, along with all the knowledge they achieved, was the presentation of a spectacular young Gypsy violinist, whose playing was incorporated into the show itself. "Hungarian Nights" has her most sophisticated score and story to date, but this is not surprising, since Kemeny's work has come very, very far in the ensuing years since she literally found her calling. The next step for her is the establishment of Crystal Theatre Publishing, which is planned to become a financial stream to support the non-profit Crystal Theatre. Shows will be, and already are, being done by other schools and young people's theater groups.
Her colleague, David Jackins, a co-founder of Crystal Theatre, along with her sister, has also written several shows for the group.
Pezza, in addition to writing the books for some of the shows, is the one responsible for the technical and business aspects, and makes sure that productions runs as smoothly a possible, and they do, even with the large young casts of many of the shows.
But that's still not all. In 1993, Kemeny indulged a long-time ambition and hope, and co-founded Crystal Opera Consortium. In its 15-year run, this showcase company presented at least 100 young professional singers in full productions of operas by Mozart, Puccini, Menotti and others, including one world premiere.
If you're breathless by now, that's not surprising. Kemeny is a woman of great creative genius, and she has turned that into the rare creation that is Crystal Theatre.
All such people need a great support system, and she has that, of course, but her creative flame lights it all, and sends, and will continue to send, the sparks of creativity and encouragement that have brightened and often changed the lives of hundreds of young people, and by association, everyone whose lives they touch.