Can rabbis wife be a Broadway showgirl

When Kelly McCormick tells people she’s Jewish, the typical response is: “McCormick? What kind of Jewish name is that?”

Her riposte: “It’s Sephardic.”

Actually, McCormick is a Jew-by-choice, married to a Reform rabbi in Bronxville, N.Y. And while she’s attended more than her share of temple picnics, McCormick is also an accomplished stage actress. In fact, she makes her Bay Area debut with a role in the Tony Award-winning musical “Les Miserables,” now playing at San Francisco’s Curran Theater.

“Les Miz,” as it’s affectionately known, is based on Victor Hugo’s novel about reformed criminal Jean Valjean and the relentless police inspector Javert determined to take him down.

McCormick plays a factory girl and is also understudy to Fantine, the mother of Jean Valjean’s daughter Cosette. It’s a small role in a huge show, and she’s thrilled to be part of it.

“This musical is peerless,” she says. “It was formative in my conceptualization of what musical theater could be. I’ve seen it almost 30 times.”

That’s as an audience member. Since January, McCormick has been in rehearsals, which for “Les Miz” is like preparing a military invasion. With a cast and crew of 106, and eight big rigs-worth of scenery, costumes and props, the three-hour show is one of the great spectacles in recent musical theater history.

“It has to run like a finely oiled machine,” says the actress.

The Detroit native grew up in a Christian household, but says, “I didn’t feel at home in church. Nothing seemed to fit.” While studying voice at a Cincinnati arts college, she often found work singing in the choir at the Hebrew Union College, the Reform movement’s rabbinical training ground.

“My first service was the ordination in 1997,” she recalls. “They gave us a book full of quotes from Talmud and the Bible. Between that and music, I sat there and cried for four hours. I knew I had found what I was looking for.”

She not only found a new faith but a future husband. Rabbi Jonathan Blake was ordained at HUC around the same time McCormick became a Jew.

“I didn’t realize one could convert,” she said. “But as fate would have it, a woman moved in below me and told me she had converted when she married. She was Orthodox.”

McCormick and Blake married, but she did not intend to solely play the role of rabbi’s wife; she was also set on a career in the theater. She has starred in numerous repertory productions in New York and around the country, most notably in revivals of “1776” and “Pal Joey.”

Now she’s on the road with “Les Miz,” and though the company will eventually move on, she’s happy to be back in the Bay Area, where she and her husband vacationed last year.

While thoroughly French in character and style (it as written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg), “Les Miz,” to McCormick, is very Jewish.

“It’s a story about tikkun olam,” she says, “and how this world is our responsibility. It’s about a man who’s very bitter and jaded. Someone shows him kindness, and he decides it’s his duty to pass this on to the world.”

“Les Miserables” plays 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, through July 24; 2 p.m. Sunday matinees; and 7:30 p.m., Sunday, June 12 and 19, at the Curran Theater, 445 Geary, S.F. Tickets: $30-$90. Information: (415) 512-7770.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.