Actor/singer Kelly McCormick.
When Kelly McCormick’s name appears in a playbill, readers learn about her path from Detroit to theaters across America. But they won’t learn about her journey to Judaism.
A rising star in musical theatre, McCormick received rave reviews for her performance in the off-Broadway musical “Her Song.” Before that, she toured the country as a factory girl and occassionally as Fontaine in the Tony Award winning musical “Les Miserables.”
Currently, she is back on stage in Tucson where she is preparing for her role in "The Pajama Game."
Born to Christian parents – a Hungarian mother and an Irish-Catholic father – Kelly McCormick grew up in a Presbyterian church outside Detroit.
Though the community was ethnically diverse with large clusters of Arabs, Jews and Greeks, Kelly was never formally introduced to Judaism.
“My best friend growing up was Orthodox,” recalls McCormick. “Her house had two refrigerators and two dishwashers. I just assumed they were wealthy and threw a lot of parties.”
At age six, McCormick told her mother she didn’t believe Jesus was the son of God. Her mother insisted he was and that was the end of the conversation until McCormick headed to graduate school in Cincinnati.
While at the College-Conservatory of Music, McCormick completed two masters degrees in voice and drama. It was during her study there that she attended her first Shabbat service. McCormick’s mentor, Jewish composer Bonia Shur, arranged for her to sing at nearby Hebrew Union College (HUC) where rabbinical students delivered the sermons. McCormick recalls fondly the first time she heard Hebrew words put to song.
“It was the marriage of music and Talmud,” says McCormick. “It was beautiful. When I first heard it, I sat there and bawled. I’d found what I was looking for.”
McCormick didn’t know it at the time, but she would also find her husband in that very same sanctuary.
Over the next two years, she continued to sing at HUC – befriending the students and finding herself immersed in a welcoming community of reform rabbis. McCormick’s friendship with rabbinical student Jonathan Blake quickly turned romantic and she began to explore Judaism through his rabbinic mentor, Mark Goldman.
“I never knew one could convert to Judaism,” says McCormick. “But Mark (jokingly) told me I’d be good for the gene pool!”
In 2000, after some serious study, a meeting with a Beit Din (religious court) and a trip to the mikveh (ritual bath), Kelly McCormick became a Jew. A few months later, Blake was ordained and two years later, they were married.
Kelly McCormick and Rabbi Jonathan Blake.
But, unlike most newlyweds, Blake and McCormick spent their first year of married life living in different cities. McCormick pursued an acting career while temping on Wall Street and Blake accepted a full-time position in Providence, Rhode Island.
McCormick’s acting career has since carried her all over the country for shows like “Pal Joey,” “Children of Eden,” and “1776.”
“Some people are surprised when they see my last name and find out I’m Jewish,” laughs McCormick. “I just tell them it’s Sephardic.”
In fact, McCormick never even considered changing her last name when she married. Unphased by other’s perceptions of her, McCormick matter-of-factly explains, “It’s who I am.”