Kyle Taylor Parker returns for National Broadway tour of “In the Heights”
By Maricha Harris
On May 5th, just eight days before Mother’s Day Lorraine Lathen sat in the Milwaukee Theater with family and friends watching her 23 year old son, Kyle Taylor Parker, grace the stage as a member of the Ensemble and an understudy for the principle role of Benny in the Broadway hit ‘In the Heights’.
For Parker, he realized a “dream come true” during his first professional trip home.
“I’m very excited to come back. One of my biggest goals has been to come back to Milwaukee and perform in a national tour. So this is a dream come true.”
This moment in time for Parker and Lathen began some 17 years ago. At age five, Parker’s behaviors caught Lathen’s attention. “When he would watch, TV he didn’t watch it like most kids would watch it; he would sit and watch it, and then he would emulate what he saw on TV, or he would critique what he saw in young actors. He would say, oh he should do it like this or he should have said it like this.”
From those moments on, Lathen invested in Parker’s passion for the arts, cultivating a special mother-son bond.
“My mother is pretty much my best friend,” he said. “I grew up in a single parent home, and she’s always nourished my dreams, and it’s always really been just my mother and I since I was five years old. I lived in West Africa with her as well as D.C. and then ending up in Wisconsin. So going to all these foreign places, we were kind of travel buddies and adventure buddies.”
Many of the Parker-Lathen adventures entailed auditions, theater performances, art museums and opera, but one pivotal moment was when Lathen surprised Parker with a trip to see a live Broadway show. “When I was five years old, my mother took me to see ‘Annie’ on Broadway, and something happened at that moment in the audience that I said this is what I have to do with my life. At six years old I started taking classes—singing, acting, and dancing—and spent everyday pretty much trying to get to a point where I could be auditioning professionally.’”
Everyone has a story, and that’s one thing that draws Parker to the performing arts. “I really enjoy quality theater that tells a story, a story that you may never hear, a voice of people who are muted. When you walk down the street you pass so many people in life, and I always wonder where they’ve come from, where are they going, what’s happening? And I love that theater can actually bring that to life.”
The essence of community feeds Parker’s love for theater.
“Theater is kind of a communal experience. The actors are being fed by the reactions of the audience, and the audience is being fed by the performance of the actors, so we’re all kind of in this thing together. For two hours in the theater time stops, and you can transport people,” he added.
In many ways Parker personifies determination. It took three years for him to be casted in ‘In the Heights’. “I used to sell t-shirts for the show when it first opened on Broadway. When [it] first opened, I saw a small clip, and I said I’m going to be in this show one day. The next day I saw a posting looking for someone to sell t-shirts, and I said, I have to do it; I just need to be around these people so I know how to get the job.”
After auditioning for the show for three years as a t-shirt salesman, Parker made the cut and has been with the show since 2011. What Parker likes most about ‘In the Heights’ is that it is a musical about now.
“It’s not like I have to sit in my dressing room for hours and say, Alright, now how do I enter the Victorian ages? And what did they look like? And I can’t walk like this; I have to walk like that. No, I can really just be my best self on stage and it tells the story.”
This is just the beginning. Parker still has big dreams. He wants work on Broadway multiple times, direct on Broadway, write plays, give back to the community by doing master classes, and someday he wants to open a school. To all those who aspire to have careers in the arts Parker says, “Hoping is the first step, and then action is the second step. Being in Milwaukee, and being an African American male, initiative is the first rule, and hard work is the second rule. Don’t take no for an answer.”
Although Parker left on May 6th, memories of Parker on a Milwaukee stage will continue to put a smile on Lathen’s face this Mother’s Day as she continues to hope and dream for her son, and even for her daughter Nia. “I was definitely a very proud mother. It was great to have him in town. My hopes and dreams for my children in general is that they pursue their passion.”