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On Broadway
Thomson native taking show on the roadThomson native's work takes him around world

Kenneth Roberson has marched a long way since he was a drum major in the Thomson High School marching band. He followed the beat of his dreams all the way to Broadway and is a dancer, choreographer and director.

"My show that is popular on Broadway, called Avenue Q , has run for about six years now," Mr. Roberson said in a recent telephone interview. "It won a Tony Award as best musical in 2004, and it is about to close on Sept. 13. So I'm about to close that chapter in my life, now."

A new chapter will unfold as Mr. Roberson travels to Clemson, S.C., in September to remount a national tour of Avenue Q . The show interacts puppets with people, all choreographed by Mr. Roberson.

The Thomson Class of 1973 alumnus began his theatrical career by winning a dance scholarship to the Alvin Alley American Dance Center, which led to his performance in three Broadway shows: Black and Blue, Oh, Kay and Jelly's Last Jam.

"My biggest choice and largest desire was to perform on Broadway," he said. "My first Broadway show in New York City proper was a show called Black and Blue, and my parents were able to come up from Thomson and see me dance, tap dance, sing and perform all on Broadway. That was a big boost for me to have them in the audience to see all the work I had done."

His performances were not limited to the Big Apple. He spent one year dancing in Paris and two in Japan. Earlier this year, he choreographed shows in Washington, D.C., and Brazil.

"So, I'm globetrotting, I guess," he quipped. "I've been to about 16 or 17 different countries. It's like anything. If you have an idea of what you want to do, you stay focused. So, no matter where you are, if you are doing what you set out to do, you can go anywhere in the world."

Even though his audiences are large, Mr. Roberson fondly recalled each one that included family members. His late parents, Henderson and Ethel Reid Roberson, were active members of the Thomson community all their lives, he said. And he still has a lot of family living in Thomson, including his nephew, Trevor Roberson, who just became the assistant principal of Thomson-McDuffie Junior High School.

Kenneth Roberson recalled growing up in Thomson in a family of "very good movers, and we had musical instruments all over the place.

"I was always acutely aware that I was a good dancer. ... I can't explain that I always knew I would make money doing it. ... The arts are very important to society, and to humans, period. Thomson is such a sports place, that it's hard to get attention if you have an inclination to do anything else."

But his ties to Georgia are not centered only in Thomson. In May, Mr. Roberson was featured in the University of Georgia's Georgia Magazine for his success after graduating from UGA with a degree in journalism. The feature included his Broadway achievements and his credits in top regional theaters in Atlanta, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Baltimore and Chicago, and on HBO.

He also co-produced three major benefits for the Rainforest Foundation, working with Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, on $2,500-a-plate dinner shows, which brought in $1 million for Rainforest projects, according to the article.

"As a director, I have more responsibility to hiring the set designer, the costume designer, the lighting designer. So I have more of a stamp of my aesthetics, and I have more of an opportunity to be creative," he said in the telephone interview.

"Sometimes, people just don't care. They just want to see people dance around, but I try to care and promote the story through movement. I think the audience is smart, and I think they are being rewarded when the story is told right."

These days, Mr. Roberson said he is turning the pages back to his humble beginnings to fulfill another dream. He will use the skills learned while earning his journalism degree and write books.

"I like the written word, and I like to story-tell," he said. "I won a writing award for a story that I wrote, so that encouraged me to write more short stories based on autobiographical things that happened in my life. ... So, that's what I'm interested in doing and what I've been doing lately. That award kind of gave me a pat on the back and encouraged me to keep writing."

Web posted on Thursday, August 13, 2009

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