Houstonians tuning into the 76th Annual Tony Awards on Sunday, June 11 honoring Broadway's best and brightest have an inspiring special reason to cheer.
Kevin Cahoon, a graduate of the Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, is in the running for Best Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical for his performance in Shucked. He plays Peanut in the show, which Variety called "surprise delight of the Broadway season."
"It is a lifelong dream come true," Cahoon tells CultureMap. "I am gobsmacked. And every time someone brings it up, it's like hearing it for the first time. I keep pinching myself."
A Houston star is born
Cahoon said he knew from a very early age he wanted to perform. At age six, he began working as a rodeo clown. HIs father was a calf roper who met his mother at a school rodeo club. Over his next decade, Cahoon would go on to perform in rodeos across Texas and Oklahoma, including at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
By age 10, he was enrolled in TUTS' Humphreys School of Musical Theatre and was performing on the mainstage. That's where he met Vanessa Garner, who became his HSPVA classmate and the founder of the Nashville Theatre School.
"She's my date to the Tonys," Cahoon notes.
For Cahoon, attending HPSVA gave him more than just an opportunity to hone his skills as an actor and a launching pad for a career that, thus far, has spanned three decades.
"HSPVA really was a safe haven for smart, talented, brilliant oddballs to feel supported," he sats. "I was a gay kid. I wasn't out, but the writing was on the wall. And it wasn't an easy daily existence in middle school. But I got to HSPVA and it was this school full of unicorns in the best possible way!"
He graduated from HSPVA in 1989 and went on to earn his BFA from NYU's prestigious Tisch School of the Arts.
"Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country, and growing up here caused my heart, my mind, my eyes to be open to people of other backgrounds," says Cahoon. "When I hit New York City, I'd already been exposed to people from so many different backgrounds, and a lot of that was true at HSPVA, too."
Once he arrived in New York, he stayed.
From PVA to Broadway
Following graduation from NYU, he made his Broadway debut in The Who's Tommy, stepping into the ensemble as a replacement after the show opened. He originated the role of Ed, one of the hyenas in the original Broadway cast of Disney's The Lion King.
He was in the original casts of The Rocky Horror Show as Phantom and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as the Childcatcher, and originated the role of George in The Wedding Singer, the musical based on the Adam Sandler film of the same name.
Television audiences will know him as Ed Clark in Fox's Monarch and Hugo from seasons two and three of A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix, as well as that streaming service's season three of Glow, where he played Bobby Barnes.
Shucked and awe
Shucked, with a score by Brandy Clark & Shane McAnally and book by Robert Horn, is nominated for nine Tony Awards. The musical tells the story of Maizy and Beau, two residents of the fictional Midwestern community of Cobb County who are forced to call off their wedding when the corn crop gets blighted.
As corn is the lifeblood of this community, Maisy heads off to the big city looking for help and a way to save the crop. The show's corniness has been compared to the classic "Hee-Haw" comedy TV show, and its earnestness has been delighting audiences and critics. Cahoon's Peanut is something of the show's everyman, serving as county clerk, resident philosopher, and more. He's the guy with lines like, “I think if you have time to jump in front of a bullet for someone, they have time to move.”
The New York Post called his performance "brilliant."
"It's been peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys," reflects Cahoon on his journey with Peanut in the show, which as taken 12 years from development to the Great White Way. He's been part of it for a decade, through workshops and readthroughs. A pre-Broadway run in D.C. was shuttered due to the pandemic.
So, having the show finally arrive on Broadway is a triumph.
"Audiences tell us, ''I'm from Nebraska,' 'I'm from Ohio,'" says Cahoon. "And they've never felt like they've seen themselves in a positive light in a lot of media."
For Cahoon, playing Peanut is a joy.
"I love that does everything in the town," he says. "And he tries to keep everyone's spirits afloat. He looks at the world, which can be unfair and sometimes unjust and he still has this positive, sunshiny view of it. This is one of the great gifts of my career."
Kinder in the house
At the Tony Awards on Sunday, Cahoon won't be the only HSPVA representing H-Town. While his is the only performance by an alumni that's nominated for an individual award, Sterling Overshown, HSPVA Class of 2012, wrote the music for Ain't No Mo, nominated for six Tony, including Best Play.
Meanwhile, Fernell Hogan, Class of 2015, is in the musical Kimberly Akimbo, which received eight nominations, including Best Musical. Jarvis B. Manning, Jr., Class of 2005, is in Some Like It Hot, nominated for 13 Tonys, including Best Musical. Brandon Lee, Class of 2001 plays trumpet in that show's orchestra.
A standing-o representation, indeed.
Watch for Kevin Cahoon on The 76th Annual Tony Awards, broadcast live on CBS and Paramount+ at 7 pm Sunday, June 11.