Big voice, big heart
Dallas theater community remembers passionate and beloved performer Jeff Kinman
Singer, actor and voice coach Jeff Kinman gave his final public performance last March, knocking out a powerful solo in Uptown Players’ annual fundraising show, Broadway Our Way, at Kalita Humphreys Theater. He looked frail, but he threw his beautiful tenor into every note of the ballad “Fly, Fly Away,” from the musical Catch Me if You Can.
He made it through the two-weekend run of the show, but it was the last time Dallas audiences saw Kinman on a stage. He died in the early hours of December 28 at Legacy Founders Cottage, the Oak Cliff hospice where he spent the last two weeks of his life.
This Saturday, January 12, at 11 am, there will be a public memorial service for Jeff Kinman at Kalita Humphreys Theater. Many of Kinman’s Dallas musical theater co-stars are scheduled to sing, including Denise Lee, Stephanie Riggs, Ashley Puckett Gonzales and Sara Shelby-Martin.
“He had a dry sense of humor that was matched with a feisty wit, and he topped it all off with impeccable taste,” says actress Ashley Hollon White.
Kinman designed the service’s set list himself: “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” “To Make You Feel My Love,” “Everything Is Possible,” “Songbird” and “Someone Will Sing All the Time.” His partner of nine years, musical director and composer Adam C. Wright, will accompany the singers; actor Brian J. Gonzales will emcee. (In late 2011, Kinman sang at a benefit at Dallas Children’s Theater to raise money for Gideon’s Feet, a local charity started by Brian and Ashley Gonzales to provide care for North Texas artists in need.)
Kinman’s friends and colleagues say they aren’t surprised that he left specific instructions for a show he couldn’t be in. Perfectionism, in performance, in how words were spoken and sung, was part of his personality.
“Jeff had a knack for sarcasm and a reputation for a no-nonsense approach to everything around him,” says actress Ashley Hollon White. “He was honest and direct, with a heart of pure gold. He had a dry sense of humor that was matched with a feisty wit, and he topped it all off with impeccable taste.”
“He loved singing and performing, and he loved all of us who shared that love with him,” says Cathy O’Neal, a union stage manager who worked on many of the shows Kinman did in area theaters over the past decade. “Offstage, he had a smart, wicked sense of humor. Jeff was a stickler for correct word choice and grammar.”
Actress, singer and voice teacher Wendy Welch sang with Kinman in Broadway Our Way two years ago and visited him during his last days in the hospice. “It was a dream to harmonize with that gorgeous voice,” says Welch, “feeling the nuances and straight tones together, finding ‘one voice.’ Jeff's voice was stunning, a gift.
“He approached friendship with the same honesty, sensitivity, love and support as he did his work,” says actress Wendy Welch. “He leaves a void that no one will ever fill.”
“He had the utmost respect for the artists with whom he worked, and he embraced the collaborative process with passion and fury. He loved it. I was also proud to call him my friend. He approached friendship with the same honesty, sensitivity, love and support as he did his work. He leaves a void in our theater community that no one will ever fill, and I will forever be grateful for knowing him.”
Kinman, a Dallas native and graduate of Bryan Adams High School, was 47 when he died of complications from HIV. He had performed many times in Uptown Players’ shows at Kalita Humphreys and at the company’s former home at the Trinity River Arts Center.
He sang and acted in musicals at Lyric Stage, Theatre Three, Theatre Arlington, Flower Mound Performing Arts Theatre and others. He was an active member of Actors Equity. He founded his own voice studio in 2011 and coached singers with the same passion he gave to his own performances.
It was obvious to those who’d seen him in so many roles over the years that he was in poor health in last spring’s Broadway Our Way. But even struggling to get through that show’s strenuous group numbers, which included climbing up and down a large staircase on the stage, he kept smiling, singing and dancing. (This year’s Broadway Our Way runs January 18-27 at Kalita Humphreys Theater.)
Last spring Kinman sang these lyrics in that song from Catch Me if You Can, by composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman:
Fly, fly, fly away
We didn’t get to say goodbye, goodbye
No need to tell me why, my baby
Maybe it’s because you’ll fly back home to me one day.
His performance was transcendent on opening night, and nobody else in the cast received a louder or more heartfelt ovation. It was a perfect moment for Kinman. It felt like a gift from him to his audience, a special pairing of singer and song, of lyrics and authentic emotion. It was as if Kinman was singing for his life. He always sang like that.
Kinman’s family requests that any donations be made in his honor to Legacy Founders Cottage.