Katie Kleyla has what many jazz vocalists would call a “dream gig.” The classically trained vocalist who received her BA in music from URI is the lead singer for the impeccable 18-piece New Providence Big Band. After just a few seconds of watching a video from one of the band’s swinging New Year’s Eve sets, I was in awe of her stage presence, gorgeous throaty-voice and of course, the sequins. I spoke to Katie recently about her newest “dream gig,” playing the lead role of Miss Sandra in The Community Players’ spring musical, All Shook Up, onstage starting May 10. Under the direction of Sandy Cerel, the show is a “rocking musical” inspired by and featuring the hits of Elvis Presley.
Marilyn Busch (Motif): Are you an actress first and singer second — or vice versa?
Katie Kleyla: I’m a classically trained soprano, so I’ll always be a singer first and an actress second. My voice has developed into a big, belty sound with lots of jazz innuendo; however, it’s the technique and the training that gets you through singing night after night.
MB: How would you describe your character, Miss Sandra?
KK: Miss Sandra enters the show as an outsider. She has just moved to the town to serve as the (small town’s Museum of Culture’s) curator. She is stylish and sexy in a cultured way that is unfamiliar to the residents, and that makes them both jealous and uneasy. She’s also extremely smart and looking for love in all the wrong places.
MB: What was the first show that you were ever in?
KK: I was in a small production of the The Wizard of Oz when I was just a kid. I wore a hula-girl costume, all green, and had a small solo during “The Merry Old Land of Oz.”
MB: How did you get started singing with the New Providence Big Band?
KK: I have been singing with the New Providence Big Band since around November 2012. Things have changed a lot since then. The group has grown, and I have grown up a bit. It’s a dream. The band director, Steve Leonard, asked me if I wanted to come sit in one night, sing a few tunes. I was thrilled to… the rest is history.
MB: How did you find this style of singing — or did it find you?
KK: Before I was a music major at URI, I was a theater major. I knew that they had open auditions for the big band soloist (open to anyone from any department), so I took a leap my freshman year and auditioned. I was so green then and very nervous, but I did get the gig. Working with the big band was definitely part of what ultimately helped me change my major fully to music, leaving me with a minor in theater. There was a time in my college career when some people in my life were not very pleased to see how excited I was about singing jazz and blues, but by then, it was already too late.
MB: What is more challenging for you, the auditioning, the weeks spent learning a part or the first night in front of an audience?
KK: For me, the rehearsal time is the most challenging. The audition is what it is — you do your best and you either have what they’re looking for or you don’t. Opening night — that’s where I shine. But that time in between can be a painful decision-making process. “Should I sing this like this or like this? … What do I need to do here to make this connection with my scene partner and with the audience?” and of course, the memorization.
MB: When you were younger, what shows did you dream of being in?
KK: Anything that Julie Andrews was in! My dad raised me and my three brothers on the old school repertoire of musicals, so I’m mad for shows like My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, The Music Man and South Pacific.
MB: What is your favorite song to belt out in the car?
KK: It’s so funny that you ask that because a friend and I just recently had this conversation. If I really need to review something, I may listen to a recording of that and sing along, but for the most part, my time in the car is usually my listening time. Focus in on some albums that have come out recently that I really want to hear, artists other people have recommended I may be interested in. Sometimes when you’re performing a lot, you don’t have a lot of time to actively listen, and I like to use my time in the car for that.
MB: Ten years from now you will be…
KK: …doing more interviews like this one, but for Vanity Fair. Ha! And singing, always singing!
The Community Players presents the popular jukebox musical All Shook Up, book by Joe DiPietro, featuring the hits of Elvis Presley. Directed by Sandy Cerel, with musical direction by Ron Procopio and choreography by Julia Gillis. Starring Carlos Arenas, Ed Carusi, Marcus Evans, Dalita Getzoyan, Donna Gorham, Malique Jelks, Katie Kleyla, Rick Koster, Kayla Leffort, Christopher Margadonna, Michael McCabe, Tammy Mulrooney, Stephanie Post, Tyler Rebello, Harrie Salk, David Schillinger, Michelle Schmitt, Sarah Stern, Jessica Still, Lisa Taylor and Jermaine Whitehead-Bailey. Performances are for two weekends, May 10-12 and 17-19. thecommunityplayers.net.