Kevin Massey was just out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when he decided to fulfill a promise he had made to himself.
Before med school, he would spend a year in New York.
He always figured he'd return. Nothing wrong with singing and acting, but they were never going to pay the bills.
"I didn't want to struggle as an actor," Massey said in an interview. "Why would you want to throw your life away in the arts?"
Plans changed in 2003 after the former pre-med student landed a role in Broadway's Big River, for which the entire cast won a Tony. He got good parts in several other musicals, including Little House on the Prairie in Minneapolis in 2008, where he met his future wife, actor Kara Lindsay.
He's a few months into a touring show of a hit no one saw coming, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, opening Tuesday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.
It almost didn't happen.
The comedy opened on Broadway in 2013 but did poorly at the box office. There is no wicked witch in the cast, after all, nor a South Park connection. It was not a retread of an old favorite, such as The King and I or Fiddler on the Roof.
So why would anyone go see it?
"Luckily our producers saw the gem that it was," Massey said, "and had the foresight to keep it open for the Tonys when it was struggling when they thought it had a chance of winning."
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder picked up four Tonys in 2014, including one for best musical.
Based on a 1907 novel, the touring production stars Massey as Monty Navarro, a clerk who learns that his recently deceased mother, thought to be a washerwoman, was actually a blue blood.
That puts Monty in line to inherit an earldom and family fortune. The only problem is eight people are ahead of him.
"People can relate to Monty," said Massey, "because of the big difference between the haves and the have-nots. It's a chance for everyman to be their champion, but unfortunately he goes about it in a horrible way."
It's not as if Monty (full name Lord Montague D'Ysquith Navarro) doesn't try to ingratiate himself to his blood relatives in legitimate ways. The D'Ysquiths uniformly and rudely rebuff his efforts, however, which turns out to be a big mistake.
The plot twists darkly along, complicated by attractions to two very different women and Monty's realization not all the D'Ysquiths deserve to die.
"I can't tell you how many times actors and other people have told me it's the best night they have had in the theater," Massey said. "People just bust a gut laughing."
A native of Black Rock, N.C., Massey studied voice and acting along with his science courses at Chapel Hill.
Massey and Lindsay married two years ago and live in New York with no children. That's hard to do when both are on the road so often, Massey said. A Broadway alum herself (Newsies), Lindsay is now playing the good witch Glinda in the touring production of Wicked.
They find way to reconnect. She visited Massey in Germany, where he was performing in Tarzan. He found a way to visit her in Canada.
"You kind of make a vacation out of it," Massey said.
Now in his 30s ("A gentleman never gives his age," he said), he is glad now he took that break before med school, to try his hand at acting in New York.
"One thing led to another," he said. "I can't imagine in my life doing anything else."
Contact Andrew Meacham at email@example.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.