Brian Keeney, a Lebanon County local, and his son, Noah, share a passion for performing and theater. Brian just took a little longer to discover it.
Brian as late bloomer
“It all began when I was 35 years old,” Brian reminisced. “I met my friend, Jeanette Beck (an accomplished actress, vocalist, and stage performer), by chance at a local supermarket. She overheard me talking to the cashier about singing at a wedding. It was a little scary, and I had no training, but (I) did it anyway. I had only sung publicly a few times, mostly karaoke.”
Jeanette knew Brian and recognized his natural talents for singing and performing. Because of this, she offered to take him on as a vocal student.
A few lessons later, Jeanette suggested that Brian audition for the Annville Community Theater’s production of the play, The Sound of Music. Brian dreamed of playing Captain von Trapp but realized that, with no experience, it wasn’t going to happen.
So, he accepted an offer to play a small role with nine lines. The ice was broken. “My skills as a hairdresser came into play, and that started the ball rolling.”
For the next 22 years, he continued to get involved in local theater, gaining lots of experience singing in music reviews and plays, performing, and directing.
“I remember working with Kevin Biddle, a great guy, in The Wizard of Oz,” Brian said. “He was the Lion, and I was the Tin Man. He was goofing around with his medal during a rehearsal. He kept repeating, ‘I got a medal, I got a medal,’ until I reminded him, very sternly, ‘Oh yeah? Well, I am made of metal,’ which caused both of us to break up. Moments like this make you realize the joy of being involved in theater.”
Yet, Brian isn’t the only member of the Keeney family to find a home on stage.
Noah discovers his talent early
A common story in theater families is the one of youth following in their elders’ footsteps. However, that was not the case with this theater family.
In third grade, Noah realized the fun of performing. He came to this realization all on his own, without prompting or other influences. Noah played the part of a cowboy in a school revue, and that was enough to convince him that “theater was for (him).”
“I was stunned that my son played a cowboy on stage,” Brian remembered. “How could he do this to me? I am a die-hard (Philadelphia) Eagles fan!”
High school and community theater beckon Noah
“While my role was merely a member of the ensemble with a few lines here and there, my foot was in the door at LCT, and I made some great lifelong connections,” Noah said.
Noah landed the role of the oldest von Trapp boy, Friedrich, in the LCT production of The Sound of Music.
“Captain von Trapp, my father in the play, was played by my real father, Brian Keeney,” Noah said. “We would joke about how difficult it was to pretend to be a father and son.”
In high school, Noah was involved in theater at Cedar Crest High School in Lebanon. He was president of the drama club as a senior.
“In my senior year, I played the part of Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast,” Noah said. “I love that role and reprised it that summer when LCT also presented Beauty and the Beast. Cogsworth became my favorite Disney movie character.”
PA Renaissance Faire hires Noah
Starting in 2015, Noah was hired for three seasons as a performer at the PA Renaissance Faire.
“This was like nothing I had experienced before,” Noah said. “Rather than staged and scripted shows I was accustomed to, the art of long-form improvisation was the focus. Instead of being handed a long script, I received a brief paragraph describing my character, and the rest was up to me.”
“In my first season, I played one of the king’s guards,” Noah said. “I had to follow the noble characters. They were seasoned veteran performers — a wealth of knowledge for me.
“In my second season, I played the role of Sir Henry Courtnay, cousin of King Henry VIII, an actual historical person. This gave me the incentive to research him and discover fun details to incorporate into my character.”
In his third season, Noah was downgraded to being a peasant.
“This was actually a lot of fun,” Noah said. “I had the freedom to wander about the Shire at will.”
Noah said his time at the PA Ren Faire “was an excellent learning experience. I learned some important life lessons, such as, ‘Open your mouth and trust what comes out,’ and, most importantly, ‘Choose joy.'”
Brian graduates to bigger roles
It is now the 21st century. Y2K was past, and Brian now had the performing experience to take on bigger roles. He auditioned for director Gloria Horn (now Tice) in 2000 for Into the Woods at LCT.
“I remember thinking I was being considered for one of the princes, but Gloria chose me to play the role of the Baker — one of the leads,” Brian remembered. “She told me the cast was well set until I auditioned. What a great confidence booster.”
Brian’s friend, Jeanette Beck, was in that cast as well. The production was a success, and everyone in the cast has managed to stay in touch over 20 years later, with some via Facebook after moving away.
As reported by Noah, Brian landed the plum role of Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music at LCT. Along the way, Noah appeared in the Cedar Crest HS production of Into the Woods, playing the part of The Mysterious Man, the father of the Baker. Now explain that one?
He remembered one show, in particular, Noises Off, directed by Gene Hole.
“It was the most difficult show, but the most satisfying,” he said. “Difficult because the set is turned around for the second act, allowing the audience to have a backstage view. I could not figure out where I was until I finally figured it out. It was satisfying because I got such a positive response for this role. Even today, people approach me and say, ‘Every time I look at you, I see Seldon.’ Then, they laugh and say they enjoyed the show.”
Brian behind the scenes
In addition to his work as a performer, Brian has put his skills and talent as a hairstylist to good use in theater. When he is not performing, Brian helps cast members get ready to look their best and in character.
For instance, “For Jekyll and Hyde at LCT, I styled more than 10 women, many with curlers and rollers. Tricks included pin, tease, brush, comb, and add pieces.” He also maintained the wig for Jekyll, which mostly required misting the wig while he had it on “to keep it ‘stringy,’ plus (keeping) a ponytail under control. All in a day’s work,” he said with a smile.
Brian shares some advice
“Go do it! It is a great environment, and each show is like a new experience. By the end of the show, you feel like a family. The bonds are special and cannot be broken,” he advised.
“If you audition, be prepared with the right song. Research the character you wish to be,” Brian added. “Be ready. And, most of all, have fun!”
He concluded, “I must say, I am proud of my body of work, but my most pride-filled moment was seeing my son play Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast and nail it. That’s my boy!”
Indeed, Brian and Noah reached the same destination, a father and son who love the theater and the Eagles. Noah’s cowboy costume is retired.
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