Experiencing the beauty of The King’s Academy’s production of Jekyll and Hyde this past weekend made me grateful to live in a place where such artistic talent is available right here in our own hometown. Among this assembly of extremely talented musicians, shined a fresh new phenomenon named Gregorio Umana.

Umana’s charismatic performance of mild mannered Henry Jekyll and his evil counterpart, Edward Hyde, was a difficult role to play. Umana brilliantly portrayed both faces of the physician whose psychotic determination to cure mental illness with his scientific potions wreaked havoc on 19th century London.

Sitting down with Gregorio, you soon see that beyond the confident virtuoso portraying the musical madman, lies the countenance of humble innocence; a boy from the third world country of Colombia with a focused dream and huge heart.

So perfect a fit was Gregorio Umana for his role that it seems possible he was not chosen for the role in Jekyll & Hyde, rather Mr. Snyder, Artistic Director at The King’s Academy, strategically chose this musical to showcase his gifted student’s vocal range and abilities.

When presented with this possibility, Gregorio countered that if Jekyll and Hyde were intended for him, it would be for a very different reason and confessed, “You don’t know this about me, but I’m crazy.”

Some may indeed classify Gregorio’s determination and drive as being a little crazy.   Every day, the seventeen year old student wakes up at 4:30 in the morning for a workout that encompasses an hour at the gym and another hour and a half at the piano in vocal training before leaving for high school.

Mr. Snyder confided, “Going into a project like this, I was a little worried about the tax that it would put on him, but out of the twenty years I’ve done this, he’s by far the hardest worker I’ve ever met, so I knew I could push him.  He is the first one to always say, ‘Mr. Snyder, you can push me even harder.'”

Gregorio Umana with Brittany Wallace as his fiancé, Emma Carew
Gregorio Umana, Dr. Jekyll and Brittany Wallace, his fiancé, Emma Carew

Sitting down with Gregorio, you soon see that beyond the confident virtuoso portraying the musical madman, lies the countenance of humble innocence; a boy from the third world country of Colombia with a focused dream and huge heart.

A young man intensely dedicated to the perfection of his craft, Gregorio is passionately loyal to the people in his life. He expresses gratitude that his parents and two sisters are able to live here in South Florida with him. But the depth of his love is revealed when he talks about his grandmother, whom he lost to lung cancer when he was fourteen. He remembers the support she gave him during difficult times in his life.  When he was let go on a lead role due to a natural adolescent voice change just as the production was heading to Lincoln Center, he was devastated. Gregorio recalls his grandmother’s encouragement.

“She kept pushing me when my voice changed. My type of personality is, I’m really harsh on myself when it comes to musical theater and pushing myself.  She was the only one who told me, ‘I am here for you and I know you can do this. Keep going.  Don’t you worry. Things like this happen. Keep going.’  I used to go to her and just spend like ten hours with her and just talk. She talked me through a lot of things and a lot of problems, and our love was amazing.  I miss her so much.”

It was his grandmother to whom he also attributes his faith. Brought up Catholic, it wasn’t until his beloved grandmother’s death that Gregorio began a deeper search within the roots of his faith.

“When my grandma died, my connection with God, it went from like zero to 100.”  As he searched to fill the void left in the absence of his cherished confidant, mentor and friend, he began searching for God.

“And then, when she died I held her more here [covering his heart], you know what I mean…more than physical, so that helped me a lot to find God and look for more resources to connect me with my grandmom.”

Gregorio’s intense musical focus and drive crosses over to his faith as he explains how he participated in the weekly chapel at King’s.

“First, the chapels, they help a lot because every single chapel I pay a lot of attention and I take notes…I’m learning…”  The lessons he learned were about the love and mercy of God and not, he explains, about an “emphasis on your flaws.  You know what I mean…on your mistakes…It was more about grace and what you can learn from an error or mistake.”  He credits the chapels and the people of King’s with strengthening his faith and helping him get through many difficult situations.

The Cast of Jekyll and Hyde “But not just that, the people here are different. They help me.  Like, they didn’t make fun of my accent or anything.”  Self conscious about his almost imperceivable accent on stage, detectable only on an occasional consonant, he is grateful that the students at King’s accept him without prejudice.  “They just help me through it.  They are amazing. They have a really good, strong moral [character here].”

You can find a glimpse of Gregorio’s fierce determination as the full toned resonance of his voice reaches all corners of the gymnasium-theater with his glorious vibrato, expressing the words of his character, Jekyll, “This is the moment, when all I’ve done…all of the dreaming, scheming, and screaming become one.”

By: Rhonda Krill

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