It's not every day a 15-year-old girl -decides she wants to play a male lead in an 18th-century play, but it's also not every day you meet someone like Satya (Tia) Kutsko.
The sophomore at New Mexico School for the Arts is a daring kind of art student, and that excitement for challenge pays off in a big way this month. After a performance in Farmington on Jan. 18, the actress, singer and musician travels to New York City to perform at the legendary 54 Below cabaret for All Things Broadway: In the Spotlight on Friday, Jan. 24, followed by Broadwaycon's Star to Be competition the next day.
As for that male lead, that was a few months ago in NMSA's production of Sense and Sensibility. Director Kate Chavez tells SFR, "We had one of our romantic male leads drop out and leave the show. … And [Tia], that night, wrote me an email that was like, 'I think I can do it, here's how I'll do it, I've already talked to this person about taking this role and I could double in this way, and I've figured it all out.'"
For anyone who doubted that a 15-year-old girl in 2019 could play a
20-something man from 1792, those thoughts were quickly dashed.
"By the time we got to performances, she had come to a whole new level," Chavez continues. "She makes big choices and she takes big risks, and that's really admirable in someone so young."
Kutsko has been a musician since age 7, when she took up piano and quickly became adept at the typical classical pieces taught to young students. Recently, her interest in the pop music of the 1970s has taken center stage.
"A year ago, I saw Bohemian Rhapsody, and became totally obsessed with Queen and Freddie Mercury," Kutsko says.
The movie inspired her to branch out into '70s music on piano, but the biggest influence was yet to come.
"In June, I saw Rocketman, and became completely obsessed with Elton John," she says, practically effervescing over the phone. (This connection is also completely unsurprising for anyone who's seen her sport her signature big sunglasses.) "I felt like I related to him on a lot of things; like him being a piano player, being from a small town, and a lot of his struggles with his music and with his classical teacher. I really related to that, and I also loved the music."
It's fitting, then, that she'll sing and play "Pinball Wizard" at the Broadwaycon competition on Jan. 25 (and you can see her tackle the song on YouTube, too). bAfter seeing Rocketman in theaters 12 times, Kutsko says she latched onto Elton John's cover of the Who song, "which has a crazy piano line instead of the guitar riff." She improvises where she sees fit, adds -flourish, and listens for other instruments in the original version that she can incorporate into her piano playing.
Lest you think her job is all fun and games, know that Kutsko knows the mechanics of music as well. The music theory aspect of her knowledge comes in with "Meadowlark," which Kutsko had to adjust to her vocal range for her performance at 54 Below.
"Meadowlark" is "from The Baker's Wife, which is a musical by Stephen Schwartz. Among other things, he wrote Wicked, Pippin, Godspell—some huge titles, but this one is more unknown," Kutsko says. "I actually discovered the song through a 54 Below recording of Andrew Reynolds singing 'Meadowlark.' I was like, this is such a good song! So then I listened to a Patti LuPone version of it, and became hooked."
But being hooked isn't enough when the Andrew Reynolds version is too low and the Patti LuPone version is too high. But not to worry—Kutsko has a solution.
"It was only this year that I worked up the courage to transpose it to C Major for learning it," she says.
So she has the fun, she has the smarts—and, in the end, turns out she has the heart for art, too.
In addition to being a lesbian who -appreciates the way many Broadway shows accurately represent LGBTQ characters, she also knows art can be a salve in crazy times, both worldwide and personal.
"I think that some people think that arts are a privilege, and yes, they can be—but…you can express yourself in many ways that can help our current situation."
As for her own life, she knows she's capable of whatever she sets her mind to because of her success in the arts. "I feel what I'm trying to communicate with my work so far is that if I can put my mind to something, I can do it." And whether that means working on "Meadowlark" every day at lunch, spending hours or days on a drawing, or writing as much as she can, she knows a fundamental truth: "Set your mind to your goals, and you can get it done
Friday, Jan. 18 in Farmington;
info at fmtn.org/civiccenter
All Things Broadway: In the Spotlight
Friday, Jan. 24 in New York City;
info at 54below.com
Broadwaycon Star To Be 2020
Saturday, Jan. 25 in New York City;
info at broadwaycon.com