After almost two decades on Broadway, Kay McClelland cashed in her celebrity and returned to Georgia
Right after her graduation, Kay McClelland (AB ’81) moved to New York City to begin an 18-year run as a starlet in Broadway musicals. As a singer and dancer, she became a series of show characters—Zaneeta Shinn in “The Music Man,” the evil stepsister Florinda and the baker’s wife in “Into the Woods,” Ruth in “Wonderful Town,” Irene Roth in “Crazy for You,” Gabbi/Bobbi in “City of Angels” and others. “My favorite role was Anna Leonowens in ‘The King and I,’” she recalls during an interview in her suburban Atlanta home. “That show was pure joy. I signed on as an understudy, but ultimately did some 300 performances over two years,” she says. Her memorabilia inclues a photograph of her with the late actor Christopher Reeves and another with composer Stephen Sondheim. She has handwritten accolades from comedy writer Larry Gelbart and a letter from songwriter Jule Styne. She opens a sandwich bag containing a few of Anna’s props from “The King and I”—crocheted gloves, a coin purse and parchment letters. “I was full of bravura and ego in those days,” she remembers. “I took notes from every opening night, which I’ve saved.” That world is light years away from where she is now, at home in Tyrone, married with children. McClelland decided to move back to Georgia in 1999 when her parents both became seriously ill. “I never expected to come back to Georgia,” she admits, “but I began a second life here then.” She reconnected with and married her high school sweetheart, Todd Naugle. The couple has two children, a 10-year-old son named Taylor, and an 8-year-old daughter, Ella. By the time she decided to leave New York, McClelland had become realistic about the tradeoffs of a high-flying career path on The Great White Way. “You have got to be ambitious to stay up there and I wasn’t willing to do that. It’s really hard work, with almost no time to play,” she says. The last show she was in was the 1998 revival of “The Sound of Music,” playing the Baroness, the one Captain von Trapp doesn’t marry. “For the part, I needed to be acerbic, which I’m clearly not,” she says with a raucous laugh. McClelland says she never thought she was much of an actor, but UGA drama professor Stanley Longman, who directed her in a student production of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” in Cortona, Italy, thought otherwise. “She was stunning in her rendering of the sharp-tongued, ill-tempered Kate and audiences loved her. On Broadway Kay performed to stunning reviews,” he says.
Kay McClelland and Christopher Coucill in “Crazy for You,” a Gershwin musical comedy at the Schubert Theatre in 1996. Photo by Joan Marcus
In the mid-’80s, she had roles in Neil Simon’s film “The Slugger’s Wife” and in the TBS soap opera “The Catlins.” “But I didn’t translate well into film,” she says. “My life is on a whole different time frame now,” she says. “I’m up at 6 to get the kids off to school. I want to be a role model for my kids, so I follow the rules more. It’s been a huge adjustment becoming a parent after being a crazy single for many years. I live in a quite different world now and don’t keep in touch with many friends from those days.” Not many people in Tyrone know of her lustrous theatrical career. And McClelland’s fine with that. “I still take dance lessons to stay in shape,” she says. “My dance teacher knows.”