Several new theater companies have been setting up shop in Kansas City recently. One of the newest, which goes by the unlikely but oddly appropriate name “Spinning Tree Theatre,” is backed by the openly gay couple Michael Grayman and Andy Parkhurst.

Spinning Tree’s first offering, the musical revue called Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn, opens at Crown Center’s Off Center Theatre on April 1 and plays for two consecutive weekends of performances. In a recent interview with Camp, Grayman and Parkhurst sat down to discuss their new theatrical endeavors.

Originally from Cincinnati, Grayman “was always the kid in the neighborhood that put on the plays.” He attended the Cincinnati School for the Creative and Performing Arts. During his freshman year, he went on tour for five months as the young prince in The King and I, which he says “sealed the deal” on a performing arts career.

A native of Kansas City, Parkhurst also began his theatrical career early — at age 9 — and later he earned a degree in modern dance at Texas Christian University. Both men eventually began touring with West Side Story in the late ’90s, allowing them to meet during extended European tours of the show. They became a couple in 2003 during tours with the ABBA musical Mamma Mia!.

After many years of performing in these and other shows — and for the more dance-oriented Parkhurst, serving as dance captain for several of them — “We were starting to get to that age and point that [Michael’s> thinking ‘I want to be a director,’ and I’m thinking ‘I want to choreograph,’” Parkhurst says.

This led the couple to work together as a director/choreographer team in regional theater companies, but that, too, eventually became tiresome.

“We worked a lot together with Michael directing and myself choreographing, and we love doing that, but it’s always that thing of, you still have to report to a producer,” Parkhurst says. “And you do what you think is wonderful work and you have someone come up and go ‘Can you just change that one little thing,’ which changes everything.”

So Parkhurst and Grayman decided to relocate to Kansas City. As Grayman says, “Andrew’s family is here, and so we have this whole extended [family">, so it felt only natural. There was a period when we were talking about Cincinnati [or"> Kansas City.”

But they found that “Cincinnati doesn’t support [theater"> as much as Kansas City.”

The idea of naming their new theater company “Spinning Tree” came about organically, as part of a brainstorming session. It refers to the company having the steadfast stability of a tree, but still spinning around with a multitude of creative ideas.

The off-Broadway musical revue Make Me a Song, Spinning Tree’s first presentation, features the music of composer William Finn, whose songs are recognized for their knowing, personal qualities and their tender depictions of personal loss and healing. The show will star, among others, well-known gay community performers Shea Coffman and Tom Lancaster.

Future Spinning Tree shows have yet to be announced, but Parkhurst says they are planning works of “intelligence and beauty” and hope to soon bring “the local Kansas City premiere of a New York-based play.” Plans are to produce two to three shows a year, with one play presentation and one musical.

Perhaps Grayman puts it best when he says, “When we came here [from New York">, we just felt our shoulders go down. It was like, ‘Oh, you can be comfortable and work at the same time.’”

Such is the magic of living and working in Kansas City.

For tickets and more information on the Spinning Tree production of Make Me a Song, call the Off Center Theatre box office at 816-842-9999, or visit spinningtreetheatre.com.
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