We'll Say We Knew Him When

Theater in His Soul, Staff Member Gary Kelly of Student Activities and Services Aspires to the Big Time

by Fernando Quintero

Moonlighting as a cast member of Beach Blanket Babylon, San Francisco's zany hit musical revue, Berkeley alumnus and Student Affairs Officer Gary Kelly gets to play James "Godfather of Soul" Brown, Louie Armstrong, a Brazilian cabana boy and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

"I do a duet with Anita Hill," Kelly elaborated. "'R-E-S-P-E-C-T' by Aretha Franklin."

Kelly, who has auditioned twice for TV's Star Search and entered the Bay Area Black comedy competition three times in a row, is confident his big break will soon come around. No more backup singing and dancing. No more opening acts.

"I want to be famous," Kelly said.

Until then, his co-workers are happy to have their very own song and dance man.

"We tell him not to forget us when he makes it big," said Margie Williams, an administrative assistant in Kelly's former southside office who drew up a nameplate flanked with big gold stars for her co-worker's office door.

Around the Residential Programs Office, where Kelly worked for three years before his recent transfer to Student Activities and Services, he was known to break into a song or tap dance across the floor. "He does it when he wants our attention, or when he's in a good mood or has good news," said Williams.

More than once, the campus has been treated to Kelly's talents, having performed at such various university functions as graduation and staff picnics. "I'm always willing to sing or perform at the drop of a hat," said Kelly. "I'm a shameless ham."

A native of South Central Los Angeles, Kelly began his performing career singing with his five brothers and sister at their neighborhood church.

Kelly graduated from Berkeley with a degree in sociology in 1984. As a student, he had a part in a Cal Performances' production of the play "Remembrances," and sang in a local band.

In 1986, Kelly returned to campus to recruit students for the Alumni Association and then worked coordinating off-campus housing for students. Meanwhile, he continued performing. He landed a bit part with the Black Repertory Group and entered local talent competitions.

Last November, a friend told Kelly about Beach Blanket Babylon auditions.

"I thought, 'What the heck. I have nothing to lose.' The only African-American male in the cast was performing without an understudy, and I was the man for the job," Kelly recalled.

Fortunately for Kelly, the lead has called in sick or gone on vacation numerous times. His favorite part about the gig at Club Fugazi in North Beach are the wild cast members, and the wigs.

"As James Brown, I wear a huge pompadour. I call it my Big Hair Role. As a Brazilian cabana boy--that's what I call the character--I wear a lot of fruit on my head," said Kelly. "I look like a human mai tai."


Copyright 1995, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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