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Award of two states

When Malibu High School handed out its senior awards in June, one of its seniors was noticeably absent. Jonathan Kaplan had won a Bank of America Achievement Award for drama. His younger brother accepted the award on his behalf. “Jonathan is acting on Broadway and is unable to accept,” ran the announcement of his absence.

Kaplan attended MHS and New York’s Professional Performing Arts School. “When the Malibu High awards were being handed out,” he says, “I was in New York graduating from my high school there.” Not to worry, he also received an award from PPAS — for Most Professional.

Even for that school, Kaplan was ahead of the crowd, having received a 1992 Tony Award nomination as best featured actor in a musical and a 1992 Theatre World Award, the youngest recipient in the award’s 48-year history.

The young performer appreciated the academic environment at MHS, but says, “I love New York. I wish MHS and the sunshine could be in New York.”

Born in Detroit, Kaplan quickly became accustomed to the bicoastal life that was later to be his as an actor. “My mother was a corporate lawyer, and we were constantly moving around because of jobs.” Virginia, Ohio and Northern California soon became home to the Kaplans. “My dad got an MBA at Stanford,” Kaplan says. “That was the longest we’ve ever stayed in a single place.”

He began his acting career at age 5 in Cincinnati. “The first show I ever did was ridiculously easy,” he claims. “My entire job was to run on, hug an old lady and run off again.” He can’t recall the name of the “old lady,” but he’s sure she wasn’t a well-known actor. “It was my favorite play so far, and I knew from that moment this was what I wanted to do.”

As a young lad living in Cupertino, Northern California, he took on 22 shows in 2.5 years.

From there, he and his mother, Susan, made a joint decision to see what New York could offer. His brother, Daniel, and sister, Katie, came with them for the summer. No work materialized. The siblings left; he and his mother stayed on. Eventually he was cast in the off-Broadway production of “Loman Family Picnic” (with Christine Baranski), then in “Rags” with the American Jewish Theater. By winter, he had booked “Falsettos.”

He likes being told the truth by his directors. “‘Fine’ is not a good thing,” he says. “You want to be told the real deal. You want to be told that your choices are strong.” He claims to have had a few rough starts with directors. “But a lot of good came out of it. Everything has been an uphill climb. I’m really proud that I’ve made such a climb. You look down on the road and see the bumps, and you’ve passed them. They’re gone, and new and exciting days are ahead.”

As for actors, he says, “I’ve been very fortunate because I’ve never worked with anyone whose ego was too big to deal with. I love when actors have the connection.”

His professional goal is to be adept at Shakespeare. He admired a recent production of “Twelfth Night.” “I was impressed that the stars, who used their names to get people to come to the show, were really committed to their characters. I thought that Paul Rudd was good. I liked Helen Hunt. Philip Bosco was unbelievable. They made the language so much more than I had seen in a while.”

At MHS, he starred in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “I thought we did a pretty decent job,” he offers. “A lot of credit needs to be given to Mr. Nashel [MHS’s theater teacher] because he pulled it together.” Nashel and Vice Principal Patricia Cairns traveled to New York to support Kaplan at his opening night performance in “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Still, he recalls his most embarrassing moment on stage — at a MHS pep rally, when he tripped and fell while exiting the stage.

Meanwhile, his mother has been encouraging her children’s academic development. “When we bring home good assignments, she’s really proud of us,” he says. “When we’re struggling a little bit, she tries to find out why.” His mother has also talked up Ivy League schools to her children. Kaplan is currently considering Brown University. “I really like the campus, but it’s not quite Pepperdine,” he notes. He will pursue a liberal arts education, probably studying psychology, “in case the acting doesn’t work out.”

He recently completed the Yale University Drama Summer Program, which he calls really, really educational. “It was defining what I felt instinctively.” He hopes to always be refining his work. “I’ve had the good fortune to go to a lot of good acting courses,” he says, San Francisco’s ACT among them. “And some hideous ones, but you learn to identify them quickly and get out as soon as possible.”

He is applying to East Coast colleges, while taking courses at Pepperdine — “Italian, because I hope to go to Italy in February, and choir.”

Lately, at least, things seem normal at the Kaplan home. “Katie just got her license and she’s very excited about that,” says her big brother. “She’s now like a taxi service for all of her friends.” Meanwhile, Kaplan thrills at seeing famous people in Malibu. “You just want to run up to them and shake their hand,” he says, “not to get an autograph, because that would be fan-like, but to tell them you like them and to encourage their work.”

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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