Valerie and I sat down on Zoom to interview Kenny Babel and his son Elijah… we both were unsure how the interview would go. After all, the only thing I write is musicals and Valerie hadn’t interviewed anyone since college. Together, we thought we had this… maybe. But it was the warmth of Kenny and Elijah that opened us all up to be vulnerable and reflective.
When you first read through the script, what was the first impression of your Character?
Kenny (reading for Khulgar Thundertree’s Son): Khulgar is a beautiful blend of inspirations. He is like a pitbull who was forced to fight and be strong but who can also learn gentleness and love. Khulgar is like a blend of Andre the Giant (Princess Bride) and Drax (Guardians of the Galaxy). OBP is just the right mix of inspiration and originality.
Elijah (reading for Kytius): My first impression was “what a cocky punk!” But as I continued to read, I got to see the true humanization and his own personal journey and growth. He is me, or the closest character I’ve ever played to me. “Even closer than D’Artagnan”, his father pipes up. Elijah agreed, “Yeah. This would be the closest.” (As a semi-retired actor myself, that can be the scariest role… being yourself onstage. I never achieved it. I do not envy Elijah for tacking it this weekend.)
How do you think the dynamic will be different between Kytius and Khulgar since you are Father and son?
Elijah: There will be more heartfelt moments because we (he and his dad) already have a rooted loving and caring relationship. The jabs at each other however, will definitely be more extreme. And because of our deep connection, the highs will be higher and the lows will be lower. (You can tell just by watching the two in action that the trust and rapport is there in spades.)
Kenny: I agree with Elijah. You let the ones you love get away with more but you do it because you know they love you. (This was, by far, the shortest of Kenny’s answers… but it was also the most sure answer. He’s either given this a lot of thought, or he knows inherently what it is to work with his son on stage. A suspect that it’s a little of column A and a little of… the other column.)
If you could meet Khulgar / Kytius what would you want to say to them?
Elijah: I would give Kytius a hug. Kytius internalizes everything he has gone through and he just needs a hug. I also want to remind him, “Hey man, don’t be a dick.” I have a large collection of assorted weapons and I would love to fight Kytius and just have it out. (I would pay to watch that fight. Kytius is unbeaten with the sword. How would he take this young challenger? I suspect it would be with a smirk and the remark, “I haven’t been beaten yet. But if you do find a way to best me, rest assured, I let you win.”)
Kenny: I would tell Khulgar that his mom is proud of the person he’s become and that she likes the journey he’s on. He needs to know that she loves him and is proud of him. (We all were a bit weepy after this comment. I was feeling so connected that I decided to share some OBP secrets… which led to tears and minds being blown. I may not be able to give hugs, but I do have a world to share. I think it was appreciated.) (It was appreciated. -V)
How is your Character like you? How are you different?
Kenny: Khulgar and I are both big fellows. We both like to live our lives in balance and try to save anybody and everybody. We are both kids at heart and like to see the world with wonder. But we are different in that I overthink things and my mind is always busy. (I would add that Khulgar’s mind is always busy too…. Just in different ways.)
Elijah: OMG we both love weapons! We are both cocky and impulsive. We like to take things head on and never be told the odds. We try to take responsibility for everything and we are both very passionate people. (I think Val and I both realized that Elijah didn’t answer the difference between him and Kytius. I noticed one HUGE difference… Kytius is a half elf and has pointier ears.)
If you could play any other character in OBP, who would it be and why?
Elijah: Rhoswen! Because she is a sneaky bad-ass. I love her character because when I play D&D I almost always play a Rogue. My brain runs on D&D. (I would want to play her too, kid.)
Kenny: I would love to play Anaax. I like that he is a bard and quick witted. I love that Anaax uses the power of words because in real life the power of words can give or grab away all of your power. I’d also like to be Titan-Ka at some point. I want to give him a schemish tone. I want to show more of the depth from his past and that he did actually love his son. (On a side note, I will be playing Titan-Ka this Saturday. Tune in to see how it’s NOT done.)
What’s your biggest challenge in this role?
Kenny: It’s really not a challenge at all. Khulgar just fits so well for me. The simplicity of his character and his emotional intelligence make him so loveable and easy to relate to. (When I heard Kenny speak about Khulgar’s emotional intelligence, I knew Kenny knew him better than most. Khulgar’s emotional intelligence is off the charts… A secret here… I wrote the “How does magic work?” scene because I thought that Anaax needed a pick-me-up and Khulgar was the only one that would have picked up on it.)
Elijah: The biggest challenge for me is how much I have truly connected with Kytius. I can find myself in every shred of the character. It will be a hard role because there will be a lot to feel. (Dealing with the potential loss of someone under your charge is a difficult cross to bear. It’s an even larger cross when there is the potential of losing your own father.)
Sitting and watching the two interact, I knew we had something special. I can not wait to see their friendship and love on full display this weekend. I walked away… well… rolly chaired away from the meeting with one though: “If I can have the same relationship with my kids as Kenny has with his son, I know I’ll have been a great parent.” Odds aren’t looking good. My middle child (I forget his name) asked me for some lunch yesterday… Which reminds me, I forgot to make him some lunch yesterday. I’ll go do that now.