A neglected child. A street urchin. An emotionally crippled shut-in. Welcome to the world of Celia Keenan-Bolger.
Audiences who have witnessed the heartbreaking vulnerability of her roles on Broadway could naturally assume that the petite actress is as fragile as the glass unicorn she cherishes onstage in the revival of The Glass Menagerie. But sitting across from her, one is struck by the fact that the two-time Tony nominee is so, well, normal.
"Maybe it's the great luck of having pretty high-functioning family and generally good DNA that feels positive," she said. "So I've always wondered, 'Where is the darkness?'"
Keenan-Bolger exhibits none of the roughness you'd expect from someone who grew up in inner-city Detroit. The daughter of an urban planner and a teacher, she attended an arts high school.
"I was one of two white kids in my high school," she said. "I grew up a minority. I always felt outside."
That sense of being an outsider has influenced her stage interpretations, beginning with her first break, playing the brain-damaged Clara in the original out-of-town productions of The Light in the Piazza, a role that went on to make a theatre star of Kelli O'Hara — "No one can sing like Kelli O'Hara," Keenan-Bolger said with a shrug.
The other problem was that Keenan-Bolger looked so young onstage, which actually worked to her advantage to play Olive in the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
"Thank God for Spelling Bee," she said. "I was like, 'I'm the person who just got fired from the Adam Guettel musical.'"
Keenan-Bolger did draw upon a heartbreak to play Eponine in the 2006 revival of Les Misérables. "I was going through a break-up," she said, "which, unfortunately, was useful."
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