Bayonne resident Kimber Benedict remembers that she was 13 when the “love bug” first struck. And it was the love of performance as a seventh grader in a summer production of “West Side Story” at Bayonne High School that made her think she wanted to do this forever.
Now, 15 years later, she continues to work in musical theater, a profession that has offered her opportunities unmatched by most others.
Benedict has traveled across Europe and most of North America, dancing, performing, and coaching. The places her jobs have taken her roll off the tongue: Italy, Spain, France, Monaco, Greece, Turkey, and Morocco. But don’t forget St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten. In the United States, there were performances in nearly 200 cities from 2011 to 2013, when she served as dance captain for Monty Python’s “Spamalot.”
Benedict next takes the stage at the Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford, N.Y., in the facility’s upcoming production of “Ragtime,” where she’s a member of the immigrant ensemble, opening Feb. 27.
Active in dance since six years old at P.S. 14 (now Nicolas Oresko School) and then drama at Bayonne High School, Benedict appeared in many school and local theater productions, honing her dancing and acting skills.
At Bayonne High, there were “The Odd Couple,” “How to Succeed in Business,” “South Pacific,” “Guys and Dolls,” and “Enter Laughing.”
“My last one was ‘Bye, Bye Birdie,’” she said. “I played the lead in that. I was Rosie in that.”
After high-school graduation, it was off to Rutgers University, where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts as a recipient of Bloustein and Presidential scholarships.
While attending Rutgers, she often returned to Bayonne to teach in her childhood dance program. Since her graduation from college, Benedict has pretty much worked nonstop.
Her credits include “Chicago” at the Ogunquit Playhouse, “Guys and Dolls” at the Riverside Theatre, and “The 25th Annual Easter Bonnet” at the Minskoff Theater. She also performed aboard Celebrity Cruise Lines.
The ride has been great so far, and there’s still so much more to go. But the journey also has its ups and downs.
“There are times where it’s so much fun and glamorous and wonderful,” Benedict said. “Then there are other times when you’re walking down the highway in Kentucky and trying to find a Taco Bell.”
She likes being able to touch people’s hearts and minds through her performances.
“I feel very passionately that the arts are what make a culture,” Benedict said. “People are robotic without it. I think it’s really special to evoke emotion from people, whether it is laughter or tears or questioning something they thought was the truth. You can really change a mind, even more so than with politics.”
Benedict hasn’t let her success in theater make her forget where it all started.
“I’ve always loved dancing, and I still consider myself a dancer,” she said.
How long will she keep on doing what she’s doing?
“Until my legs can’t kick anymore,” she said.
Based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, “Ragtime” is a musical portrait of early 20th century America. It tells the story of three unconnected families who wend their way through upper-middle class New Rochelle, Harlem, and Tin Pan Alley to the immigrant lower East Side. The characters reveal their belief in the American Dream through rhythms, lyrics, large choruses, and ragtime melodies.
“The show ‘Ragtime’ is unlike any show I’ve done before. It’s much more serious,” she said. “’Ragtime’ is a beautiful story, and the music is haunting and heartfelt at times. And it’s a big, big show.”
“Ragtime” runs through May 4 on Thursday through Sunday evenings and Thursday and Sunday matinees. For more information, visit www.RagtimeWestchester.com or call (914) 592-2222. Tickets include the show, a three-course meal, and parking.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.