L.A. ‘Spring Awakening’ Lead Cast in First Feature Role

Austin McKenzie to Appear in ‘Something Like Summer’

STAGE STAR Austin McKenzie will bring Ben Bentley to life. (Click to view full size)
STAGE STAR Austin McKenzie will bring Ben Bentley to life. (Click to view full size)

LOS ANGELES — The star of Deaf West Theatre’s critically lauded “Spring Awakening” has been signed to his first feature film role in the screen adaptation of the acclaimed young adult novel, “Something Like Summer.”

Austin McKenzie, a native of Mesa, Ariz., currently appears on stage as Melchior in the Los Angeles production of the Tony Award-winning “Spring Awakening.” He will play the film’s lead.

McKenzie will portray Benjamin Bentley, a gifted young singer whose relationship with unattainable athlete Tim Wyman is depicted over the course of a dozen years.

The novel upon which the film is based is the first of a popular five-book series by author Jay Bell, winner of the Lambda Literary Award. “Something Like Summer” was named one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2011.

“Something Like Summer” is slated to shoot next spring, and is the third feature from Blue Seraph Productions, including director J.T. Tepnapa and writer-producer Carlos Pedraza, both behind 2011’s critically acclaimed “Judas Kiss.”

Austin McKenzie as Melchior in Spring Awakening. Photo by Deaf West Theatre.
Austin McKenzie garnered rave reviews in the role of Melchior in Los Angeles’ Deaf West Theatre production of ‘Spring Awakening.’ (Click to view full size)

“We are so fortunate to have discovered Austin in his first professional stage role,” Tepnapa said. “His performance in ‘Spring Awakening’ was transcendent. As an actor, singer and sign language performer, he embodies the power of a production that elevates the themes of ‘Spring Awakening’ to a new level.”

McKenzie’s performance as Melchior stunned audiences and critics alike. The Los Angeles Times said, “Austin McKenzie charts the turbulent waters from innocence to experience with extraordinary finesse,” with “a mature talent [and] spine-tingling singing.”

Deaf West’s production cast both hearing and deaf actors whose combined speaking and signing, the Times stated, “lends symbolic punch to the plight of these voiceless youths.”

Broadway World’s review was even more  effusive:

“McKenzie is charismatic, innocently handsome, and blessed with a gorgeous voice. Mark my words… this young man is going to be a star. He has that intangible quality, that mysterious something that the stage light loves (which means the camera will, too).”

The Times of San Diego highlighted McKenzie’s “wonderful singing voice,” and how he “captures the angst, anger and passion of the character with impressive agility.”

Pedraza, who adapted Bell’s book, and is also producing “Something Like Summer,” said those were the exact qualities the producers are seeking in the character of Benjamin Bentley.

UPDATE The novel’s author, Jay Bell, reacts to casting announcement »

Producers conducted a nationwide search for young men to portray the role, auditioning actors from Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, across the Midwest and the South.

McKenzie is represented by Luber Roklin Entertainment in Los Angeles. Patti Carns Kalles, CSA, is the film’s casting director.

“Something Like Summer” is the third feature from Blue Seraph Productions, a Los Angeles company founded by director Tepnapa. His creative partner on “Judas Kiss,” Carlos Pedraza, also produced their second feature, “The Dark Place,” which is due for digital release on December 2, from Broken Glass Films.

The film is co-produced by Tom Ly of Jade Knight Productions in Seattle, which acquired the rights to Bell’s novel.

More information about “Something Like Summer,” including more casting news, updates and its upcoming crowdfunding campaign, can be found at SomethingLikeSummer.com.

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