Born and raised in St. Clements, Jeffrey Kuhn eventually moved to New York City to pursue his love of musical theatre. It’s a move that has paid off.
On May 1, Kuhn was announced as the winner of the Featured Actor in a Musical award at the Lucille Lortel Awards, honouring excellence in off-Broadway production.
He currently works as Zazu in The Lion King in New York City, but took a break to fill a role in Southern Comfort: a play detailing the struggles of a transgender man, Robert Eads, in rural Georgia and his relationships and struggles as he tries to find unbiased treatment for ovarian cancer as he approaches the end of his life.
Kuhn played Jackson, also a transgender man, who stays by Eads’ side while he searches for treatment and peace.
“Robert’s access to proper care and treatment was derailed by ignorance and discrimination in several of the places he sought treatment. The stage adaptation is based on the characters in a film but with some key dramatic inventions. I play Robert’s ‘son,’ one of his closest chosen family, Jackson, also a transgender man, which is based on the real person Maxwell Anderson in the film.”
The play was inspired by a documentary film by filmmaker Kate Davis. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. Kuhn’s run of the production was shown at The Public Theatre in New York City. He was as surprised as ever when he heard his name announced in the Featured Actor in a Musical category.
“The whole experience was kind of surreal and out of body,” he said from New York. “I had absolutely no expectation or idea how it was going to play out so it was just a total surprise to hear Anna Chlumsky (of My Girl fame) say my name. The idea of awards or accolades never entered my mind so it was all a complete and happy surprise after the fact.”
After attending and graduating from the Ryerson Theatre School in Toronto, Kuhn made his way to Stratford where he performed on stage before heading to New York City with Garth Drabinsky’s original Broadway production of Ragtime. He decided he wanted to make New York City his home. Whole waiting for his green card, he spent some time in Toronto, where he was part of the premiere cast of The Lion King in 2000. His dreams came to fruition when he was approved, and returned to New York. He has appeared on stages around the world in productions like Spamalot, Wicked and Assassins.
He says his family have been his biggest cheerleader in his journey to Broadway success.
“My family has always been super supportive of my career. Not only going into a field which was uncertain and unstable, but choosing to move to New York and call that my home,” he said. “They would love to have me closer, but they have always encouraged me to follow my heart and they have always expressed their pride and their support.”
He also has some advice for young people who want to pursue a career in the arts, but also come from a small town, like he did.
“I would suggest that they do all the theatre they can possibly do, at their schools or wherever,” he shared. “And I would recommend getting good, solid, traditional, classical training at the best school they can attend. I remember being very eager to dash out of the gate, but schooling will always be your best investment.”
To read more about the Lucille Lortel Awards, visit www.lortelaward.com.