Award-winning Director Jennifer Kelly will not remember 2011 as an easy year but it could still feature her breakthrough on the big stage.
Her marriage came apart publicly, she lost her job after more than a decade as Lemon Bay High School Theatre's director, and her handling of child supervision responsibilities was harshly criticized by LBHS officials on the way out the door.
Kelly took those blows in stride. She quietly picked up the pieces of her personal and professional lives by keeping her focus on theater.
Jennifer Kelly of Englewood could be on the brink of major Broadway success with her play “Beautiful.”
"Artists are notoriously misunderstood," Kelly said after her LBHS dismissal. "My methods, my motives, my program and my aspirations were no exception to that and I don't know if I was so much treated unfairly as just misunderstood. What is done is done. We will all learn from it and rise above the challenge stronger."
Kelly's words appeared prophetic as a big career rebound soon appeared in the offing. Kelly announced in March she was partnering with a noted Broadway producer on her original flying show, "Beautiful," which she wrote and created.
Producer Randall Wreghitt made Kelly ecstatic when he agreed to become executive producer as it virtually guaranteed the show would be in production somewhere near Broadway if not on it.
He loudly praised her capabilities and said he was instantly sold on the concept of "Beautiful" after meeting with Kelly and watching clips from the show.
"It was Kelly's ability to work wonders with high-school students that convinced me," Wreghitt said. "She and 'Beautiful' have huge potential."
Wreghitt possessed a legendary Broadway eye for talent. He recently produced "Miracle Worker," starring Abigail Breslin, and "Little Women" with Sutton Foster. He collected 10 Tony Award nominations for his production of "Grey Gardens."
"I am thoroughly looking forward to working with Jennifer Kelly on her production of 'Beautiful," he said.
Unfortunately, he never lived to see it through. He died a little more than two months after a black-tie launch party, "A Beautiful Gala," was held March 5 at Boca Royale Golf and Country Club in Englewood. The 55-year-old Wreghitt was declared dead May 18 of carbon monoxide poisoning.
It was yet another personal blow to Kelly, who was immersed in career training in a program for new producers. On her off days she attended a seminar at the Commercial Theater Institute and another program called "True Theater Resources."
"We are shocked, saddened, and devastated by the tragic news of the death of our dear friend, mentor, cheerleader and producer, Randall Wreghitt," Kelly wrote the day of his passing. "Randall, you were such a light of optimism, passion, and love. You believed in us against all odds. During a difficult time, you swooped in with your big heart and lifted us up with your wings of hope and faith. 'Beautiful' will soar because of you!"
It's ironic the future for "Beautiful" is up in the air because the show is so dependent on flying special effects.
"Beautiful" is inspired by the life cycle of a caterpillar. The lead caterpillar character, Beautiful, has adventures that put flying to optimal use with special effects of Cirque du Soleil-inspired elements backed by tracked and live original and contemporary music.
Kelly said she couldn't have gotten the production off the ground without ZFX head aerial choreographer, Jason Whicker, and a partnership with ZFX Flying Effects out of Louisville, Ky.
"Whicker's aerial work surpasses flight originally created for any show on or off Broadway," Kelly said.
The original cast and crew Kelly used to show off her show was comprised of Lemon Bay High School theatre students who performed to SROs and rave reviews.
"The Englewood community is fortunate to have been the first to experience this wonderfully innovative production," Wreghitt said just one month before his passing. "Seeing the outstanding support the community has provided to Jennifer's productions in the past, I have great faith that the community will continue to support her and embrace the launching of her current production and new production company."
Plans are to showcase "Beautiful" in New York for investors, producers, and industry people in September complete with a story board and a 45-minute montage of scenes. Development will continue through 2012 with plans to launch a 10-city tour by the start of 2013 ending with a limited engagement in New York.