Paducah native, McKynleigh Abraham, spent her early acting years performing on the Market House Theatre stage. Years later, Abraham will return to Paducah to perform at the Carson Center with the touring production of the Tony award-winning musical, Once on This Island. Abraham visits Sounds Good to discuss the show, her Paducah roots, and how it feels to be returning as a professional actor.
At three years old, Abraham performed in a talent competition, sparking a love for the stage that she's carried into adulthood. Describing herself as the "OG Black Annie," Abraham joined a community theatre production of Annie that solidified her goal to become a professional actor. Since then, she has cut her teeth traveling and working across the country in a myriad of performative avenues.
"I was doing Market House Theatre, and then when I turned nineteen years old, I went to Los Angeles, California for about three months. I was on the television show The Glee Project. That was kind of like the first big thing that I did directly after high school. After that show happened and I had that experience, I went to Northern Kentucky University. When I graduated, I did a lot of regional theatre work in different cities, different parts of the country," Abraham says. "I did some productions of shows in New Hampshire, I worked with children's theatre in upstate New York, I did theme park work, I worked on a cruise line. I ended up moving to New York in December of 2016. I moved there, I ended up signing with an agent, and that kind of started me doing carnival cruise lines and going into the tour that I did. For almost two years, I was on tour with Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, and that led me to where I'm at right now."
Although Abraham classifies her time in Los Angeles as the most typical "big break," it didn't align with her ultimate goals as an actor. The Glee Project was television, Abraham wanted the stage. She says she prefers acting in live performances because "you get one chance to do it. It's a different beast than doing film and recording things, and that's a whole separate style of acting. A lot of people can't do both. I tend to enjoy being on stage more and having a live audience in front of me because you get one chance to do it. You get one chance to do it honestly and purely, and it's kind of got to be truthful or else you're kind of called on it."
This weekend, Abraham will become the first Paducah native to perform on the Carson Center stage as a professional touring actor. "It's always been a dream from the first time I saw a professional production at the Carson Center, which I believe was 42nd Street. I don't even know when that came here, but that was the first one I had ever seen. From that moment on, and even into coming back into Paducah for breaks from college and everything, I always looked over at the Carson Center and said 'you know what, I really want to perform there. One day, I want to perform there.' It's honestly been a dream come true. We've been tech-ing for the past week at the Carson Center, and every day I walk in there I'm just like, 'this is so surreal. It's so great,'" Abraham says.
Abraham is an ensemble member and understudy for two principal god characters in Once on this Island. Winner of the 2018 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, Once on this Island is the sweeping, universal tale of Ti Moune, a fearless peasant girl in search of her place in the world and ready to risk it all for love. Guided by the island's mighty gods of love, earth, death, and water, Ti Moune embarks on a remarkable journey to reunite with the man who captured her heart.
"This show is one of my favorite shows. This particular one is the revival of a show that was on Broadway about 15-20 years ago...I saw it for the first time when it was on Broadway, right before it won the Tony, about two years ago. I fell in love with the show," Abraham says. "This show is very unique in that it is a hugely ensemble piece. It's a show of about seventeen people, and we are all on stage the whole time, and we are playing different characters. It's kind of a story within a play. We're islanders who are telling these stories, so we become different characters within the show."
As a seasoned performer, Abraham is no stranger to pre-show jitters. However, this hometown performance feels slightly different. "I get a feeling in the pit of my stomach, like a nervous excitement, every single time I do a show for the first time. I've been thinking about it because I've kind of been on the verge of tears since the moment we drove into Paducah," Abraham laughs. "I honestly can't imagine what it's going to be like. I know there's going to be so many people in that audience on Saturday night. So many people have told me every day and every place that I go, at least five people tell me that they have their tickets and they're going to be there on Saturday. Honestly, just being thankful and being overwhelmed but in a really positive way. I can't wait to show this story and everything that we've been working on to the people of Paducah."
Once on this Island will be presented at the Carson Center for a one-time performance on Saturday, October 12th at 7:15 p.m. Tickets are $25 and seating is limited. You can reserve tickets by visiting the Carson Center website or by calling the box office directly at 270-450-4444.