November 26, 2014

Dancing through life, a multi-talented couple

Kirby and Beverly Ward of Wilton

Kirby and Beverly Ward.
Kirby and Beverly Ward.

Kirby and Beverly Ward.

If it’s true “people who dance together, stay together,” actors, singers, dancers, songwriters,directors Kirby and Beverly Ward win the big prize for successful careers in show business and in a marriage that includes three sons, Michael, 23, James, 18; and Jesse, 16. The Wards moved to Wilton from Greenwich in 2000 after attending an auction at Ambler farm. “We wanted woods around us and the schools were good,” said Beverly Ward.

Currently Kirby Ward, assisted by Beverly, is director and choreographer for the Tony Award-winning musical Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine, with new music by Jeanine Tesori, new lyrics by Dick Scanlan, new sets, and sparkling costumes from the original 2002 Broadway production. and audiences are loving the carefree musical that garnered six Tony Awards.

Based on the 1967 film starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Channing and Beatrice Lillie, the Ogunquit production stars Becky Gulsvig as Millie and Sally Struthers as the Dragon Lady Mrs. Meers, in her annual cameo appearance at the playhouse.

How the Wards met is a show business story in itself and Kirby and Beverly enjoyed recalling the facts during a phone interview from their Wilton home. Kirby said their romance began when Beverly was a student at San Diego Junior Theatre, a city-sponsored children’s theater school run by Kirby’s parents, actors/dancers Don and Bonnie Ward.

Kirby, who is six years older than Beverly, was attending USC in Los Angeles, and he would return to the school to direct A Bright Side, a musical touring group. Beverly, at age 13, impressed Kirby when she played Becky Thatcher in Tom Sawyer at the theater school. “She was just a cute kid when I first saw her,” said Kirby. Beverly, picking up the conversation, added, “But I had an instant crush on him, the first time I saw him.” They didn’t start dating until they were both cast in a dinner theater production of The Sound of Music with Kirby, as Rolf; and Beverly, then 15, as Liesl Von Trapp. The romance developed and they were married when Beverly turned 18. Their “working honeymoon” was a national tour in Sugar Babies starring Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney.

Over the years, the Wards sometimes took their children on tour with them accompanied by a nanny, the family cat and lots of luggage, according to Beverly Ward. On the home front, the Wards have appeared at popular local musical events such as the Wilton Singers annual cabaret, performing classics from the Great American Song Book.

In 2007, Kirby Ward directed and choreographed another favorite musical, Crazy for You at the Ogunquit Playhouse receiving rave reviews. He knows the lead role well, having appeared in the London production for which he received an Olivier Award nomination. He has performed for Queen Elizabeth, two presidents, and three first ladies.

As an actor, singer, dancer, director and choreographer, Kirby Ward has appeared in 65 theatrical productions, and in concert all over the country. He has written for television and film and won an award for Best Short Film at the Kent, CT Film Festival for his original 20-minute film Down in the Mouth. Describing himself as a “closet filmmaker,” Kirby is planning to write a full-length film, “my dream,” he said. He is also currently working on a new musical titled Lord Savile’s Crime, based on a short story by Oscar Wilde and is writing a book titled A Player Born that was to be a screen play and has been turned into a novel. The books subject is genetic engineering mixed with sports. “My father thinks I should write a book about theater, but I have high hopes for this book,” said Kirby.

His next project is directing Fiddler On the Roof at the Reale Theater in Waltham, Mass., July 11-21.

Kirby Ward is also hoping for an opportunity to play Harold Hill in the musical The Music Man: “My father played the role and I traveled with him,” he said.

Beverly Ward has appeared on Broadway in Epic Proportions and in many regional productions. In 2011, she performed as the mother in a year-long national tour of Billy Elliott. Together, the Wards have performed in Crazy for You, Show Boat, Singin’ in the Rain, They’re Playing Our Song, and Lyrics and Lyricists. They created their own variety show called Wards and Music, with a plot about a couple who write a show together but can’t get it produced, a touch of modern show biz reality.

A songwriter, Beverly is readying a folk album. “I’m a ‘woman of a ‘certain age,’ and cannot do a lot of roles I would like to do anymore like Nellie Forbush in South Pacific, and I have to widen my horizons. I’m painting in oil and watercolor and have an artist’s studio at St. Philip’s Church [in Norwalk]. and will be exhibiting my paintings in a show on Sheffield Isand opening June 29 remaining throughout the summer.”

Commenting on current Broadway productions, Kirby and Beverly Ward agreed, “Theater is good, and sometimes it’s bad, and it’s a struggle to keep it alive; whatever it takes to make audiences happy. Hats off to anyone who gets something produced on Broadway today,” they said.

When at home between professional assignments, the Wards enjoy Hunan Café in Wilton Center; Tusk ‘N Cup in Branchville (where Kirby sets up his computer, and has coffee to work), and the Wilton Library.

The atttractive couple celebrated their 29th wedding anniversary in Ogunquit while working on Thoroughly Modern Millie, now playing matinees and evenings through July 6, and receiving standing ovations at every performance (reservations 207-646-5511 or visit ogunquitplayhouse.org).