Kelly's unique vision arose from the tensions he felt growing up with an artistic nature in provincial Jersey City, New Jersey, in the 1950s. As the actor, in Miami for a five-week residency under the auspices of Miami-Dade Community College's Cultura del Lobo series and the South Florida Art Council, wryly notes, "I was expected to love little league, not ballet." At seventeen his passion for dance led him across the Hudson River to study ballet in Manhattan. When it became clear after a few years that he'd started his classical dance training at too late an age, he began studying painting. Yet the isolation inherent in that particular discipline made it difficult for him to produce work. "Many people don't understand the process of making art," Kelly notes in a practical tone. "An artist repeatedly comes back to a sober void. And there's no easy way of doing that."
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Kelly ventured into the club and cabaret scene, lip-synching operatic arias while adding choreography and back-up singers in drag. Ultimately he melded the elements of painting (shape, line, color, movement) and singing into broader, more thematically complex performances. An audience, he realized, gave him the impetus necessary to complete his work. And performing allowed him to "revel in being a chameleon, transforming myself physically and vocally."
The malleable Kelly undeniably transmutes into Egon Schiele in Pass the Blutwurst, Bitte. After encountering Schiele's brooding paintings in art school, Kelly was so moved he immersed himself in Schiele's artistry. Using a mirror to guide him, Kelly re-created the painter's disturbing self-portraits through the angular movements of his own body, incorporating this obsession into a theater piece about Schiele's life (the artist died in the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic). In addition to Kelly, Pass the Blutwurst features four actor-dancers; together they explore Schiele's relationship with his mistress, his wife, and two alter egos (called "alter Egons"), as well as the process by which the expressionist created his haunting work. The show includes a captivating melange of on-stage drawing, choreography, film, music by Mahler and Beethoven, and songs by composers Hugo Wolf and Arrigo Boito rendered by Kelly in his arresting countertenor.
As demonstrated in Pass the Blutwurst, Bitte, Kelly's multidiscipline approach to theater confounds categorization, and viewers bound by the need for dialogue to nail down meaning may have to adjust from a long history of watching traditional work. But those willing to do so are in for a powerful production.