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Karen Melton: actress, music director and voice coach

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

Ever since the New River Valley Regional Theatre opened for business this year actors, singers and theater types from near and far have come to work on productions in Pulaski. Karen Zucco Melton, the Music Director for the NRV Regional Theatre’s latest production, entitled “Holiday Magic,” now lives close-by but has lived and worked in many other places.

“I’ve traveled all over,” said Melton. “I’ve done lots of shows in New England. I also did a European tour called “The Best of Andrew Lloyd Weber.”

During this earlier phase of Melton’s career, she was doing less musical directing and more singing and dancing, just as she’d imagined herself doing when she was a young girl.

“For some kids, it’s like every day they want to do something different when they grow up,” said Melton. “But that’s not me. I knew what I wanted to do.”

Karen Melton grew up as the only child of two school teachers in Annapolis, Maryland. She, like her aunt, was always musically inclined.

“I was singing and my aunt was a singer and she heard me and she told my mom, ‘Hey, she’s got a really good voice. You should get her some voice lessons.'”

From a very young age, Melton took voice lessons and dance lessons. One day her mother was putting on a play and needed some small people to fill out the cast.

“My mom’s school was doing Wizard of Oz and they needed munchkins, so I ended up being a munchkin,” said Melton. “So, full circle, my son ended up playing a munchkin at Wohlfarht House for the Wizard of Oz for his first show. So my first show was the same first show as his first show. It’s crazy.”

Today Karen Melton lives in Max Meadows with her husband Robby and her son Nicholas. This wasn’t always the plan. Growing up in Maryland, Melton made the most of her surroundings to chase her dreams of stardom.

“I did community theater,” said Melton. “There are so many opportunities up there and I just loved it.”

She attended the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Connecticut, and from there set out for New York City.

“I lived in New York on and off,” said Melton. “I would get jobs and would go off and perform. It’s just so funny. All of us actors live in New York, this big city and we audition. Then we get hired to go to these professional theaters and they’re in these small towns like New River Valley Regional Theater.”

While in New York, Karen Melton auditioned for a production playing at the Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre in Wytheville. She got the part and went on to star in their production of “Annie.” Melton met Catie Moss, who today stars in “Holiday Magic” at the Pulaski Theatre, during that production of “Annie” back in 2003.

“The theater world is very small,” said Melton. “Catie and I have done a lot of shows together. I was her vocal coach when she was younger.”

It was during that same production of Annie that Melton was introduced to her future husband by his niece. The timing proved to be fortuitous.

“I was kind of over New York at that point,” Karen Melton admitted. “I needed a change of pace. You have to develop a thick skin because for every one yes, you get 20 rejections. It just gets hard because you have to work to be able to afford to live there. And then it gets to the point where you can’t miss work to go to an audition because you have to be able to pay your bills. And then you’re not auditioning because you’re having to work to pay your bills and then you’re like ‘Why am I here?'”

For all intents and purposes the Big Apple is the center of the stage acting universe, but as time passed Melton began to take a different view on performing.

“At one point of my life, of course I wanted to be on Broadway and I wanted that whole thing but eventually I was like … I truly, truly love performing. I love acting and singing and being onstage and music directing and being involved. I was like, if I can just be involved in any way it doesn’t matter to me where I am doing it, as long as I am doing it. So then I was OK with going somewhere else, as long as I could be involved still.”

The year after doing Annie in Wytheville, Melton moved to Nashville where she recorded some music written by one of her cousins. She was also dating her future husband Robby at the time and drove back and forth to do still more shows at the Wohlfarhrt Haus. She married Robby Melton in 2005 and agreed to move to Max Meadows, on one condition.

“The deal was, I did not have to get a job doing something that I hated,” Karen Melton explained. “I could do something that I loved if we came back. That was the deal. So now I teach private voice lessons in Wytheville, I teach preschool and I music direct and occasionally perform.”

Since becoming a mother, Karen Melton’s focus has naturally been more attuned the younger generation, especially her son Nicholas.

“He’s rotten … in a good way,” Melton said smiling. “He’s got a huge personality and he likes to perform too. He’s been around it his whole life because I’d always bring him to rehearsals. He likes to be up onstage. One of my biggest passions is bring the arts to kids.”

Melton still performs. Just last fall she acted in Ragtime at the Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theater.

“The role for me was like a dream, an amazing experience,” said Melton.

She is also excited about her role as music director for Holiday Magic at the Pulaski Theatre.

“I’m really excited to be working with Robin. I didn’t realize her theater was here. I’m very much for exposing people to the arts and I think what Robin is putting out is just really high, high quality and I’m super excited that they are here and I’m excited to be involved with her.”

After her lengthy stint in one of the world’s biggest cities, Melton is as involved as ever in the world of theater.

“As a music director or voice teacher, I love to see what I’ve done come to life,” Melton enthused. “I want that to add onto the story instead of just sound pretty. When that happens that is so rewarding.”

“I’ve been really lucky,” she added. “I’ve had fun and gotten to do a lot of cool stuff. I’ve played some really incredible roles in my life.”

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