Kevin Kulp was almost 12 and a member of the Philadelphia Boys Choir and Chorale when he and the choir serenaded the packed Academy of Music during the Pennsylvania Ballet’s annual Nutcracker show.
“I remember being backstage and watching the cast members get ready for the ballet,” says Kulp, who was with the choir for four years, “and I knew that I wanted to perform for a living.”
After having recently finished his freshman year at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, Kulp has been performing in the ensemble of the Walnut Street Theatre’s production of Miss Saigon, playing through July 24 in Philadelphia.
The story, about love and betrayal in a mixed-race relationship, has been hailed by critics as a poignant large-scale operation being held in America’s oldest venue, mainly as a result of the less-than-a-minute landing of a helicopter during the evacuation scene. (The audience feels the wind.)
“It’s a great play,” says Kulp, 19, of Miss Saigon, which has been extended twice during the Walnut Street Theatre's 202nd season. “And, they do a good job in replicating the helicopter departure."
Besides performing with the Philadelphia Boys Choir, Kulp gained stage experience doing plays in school while growing up in Moorestown. Before majoring in theater in college, Kulp acted in plays at the —A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Aida, Beauty and the Beast and Les Miserables.
Kulp also worked with the MacGuffin Theatre and Film Company in Philadelphia, and that is where he heard about auditions last spring for Miss Saigon. Kulp, who was adopted from South Korea when he was a baby, was originally cast as an extra.
“I was able to get a permanent part in the ensemble,” says Kulp, who appears energetic and energized with excitement when speaking about the musical, “when someone had to drop out.”
When he got the call, Kulp was in the middle of finals. Not sure how he was going to handle college’s end-of-the-year workload, the administration at Muhlenberg allowed him to work within special parameters and finish a little earlier than the school schedule.
It took some time for Kulp to emerge into the demands of his first professional part. Miss Saigon has run for nearly three months and has nearly 30 performers, with eight shows each week—a step up from the small theater work he had done.
“Sometimes I stay in the city with my brother”—who is a law student at Drexel University—“or I come back home to Moorestown,” says Kulp, who grew up on Central Avenue.
During some shows, Kulp has speaking lines when he plays a Vietcong soldier. The nights he is in the ensemble, he sings every major chorus number like “This is the Hour” and “Bui Doi.”
For Kulp, who wants to pursue acting after college, the experience has also served as a rapid course for a highly competitive career choice. He is the youngest cast member and veteran actors have taken him under their wings.
“The man with whom I share a dressing room has starred in Rent and many other shows on Broadway,” says Kulp. “I am learning how to get an agent, where to live in the city, and simple things like what to wear to an audition.”
When Miss Saigon closes, Kulp will have a couple of weeks off before heading back to Muhlenberg in late August.
“Not only am I learning things that school cannot teach me,” enthuses Kulp, “but I am also getting to perform to a sold-out house almost every night. It is amazing, tiring, strenuous and rewarding all at the same time!”
Miss Saigon continues through July 24 at Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St. Tickets: $10-$95. Information: 215-574-3550 or walnutstreettheatre.org.