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Aspiring teen singer finds opera opportunity

By CHASE SQUIRES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 17, 2002

ZEPHYRHILLS -- The lights are dim; the setting is an elegant Italian restaurant, and the sound of an operatic aria floats through the night.

It's downtown Zephyrhills and it's 15-year-old Kristi Beinhauer.

For Beinhauer, it's another night on the job. As a sophomore at Zephyrhills High School, she has launched a musical career she hopes will take her to the bright lights and big city. Already a veteran of professional musical productions in Tampa, she landed a regular gig Friday and Saturday nights at Manolo's Italiano Ristorante.

Weekend diners are treated to operatic selections as Beinhauer strolls through the restaurant, her soprano voice echoing off the high ceilings.

"I was in dancing class when I was 3," she said this week. "So I've always been around music. I was in chorus at school, and when I was about 12 or 13 I asked my mother for voice lessons."

Her mother said she was skeptical at first.

"I said I know I can sing," Beinhauer said. "We were in the kitchen. I made her turn around so she wasn't looking at me, and I said, 'Listen.' I sang Oh, Holy Night."

"I said, 'okay,' " her mother, Eileen, said.

That "okay" transformed both mother's and daughter's lives into a whirl of auditions, voice lessons, dance class, play rehearsals, appearances at civic events and work. Nightly practices send them hustling from school to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center for evenings that keep them out until 1 a.m.

Then it's up early in the morning and back to school (where she is enrolled in honors classes) and some time for church.

In those few spare moments, Beinhauer said she surfs the Internet and is learning to play the piano. Around the house, her musical tastes vary, from Christian punk music to Frank Sinatra classics.

Obviously, she said, there's not time for much else. Television pretty much ceased to exist for her.

"I don't think I've watched TV in months," she said. "Maybe a few minutes here and there, but I don't have time."

This weekend she's off to a Fort Lauderdale audition for the Broadway version of the Lion King, and next week is a call-back for an audition for a musical film production in Orlando.

If one of those jobs comes through, Beinhauer and her mother said they'll do whatever they have to do -- even if that means moving to New York City.

For now, she's a professional performer in that she's getting paid, though not a lot. Most of what she earns goes into the bank for college or to pay her travel and other expenses, she said.

Her father, Jerry, is a teacher at Stewart Middle School. He goes along to most late-night practices and said he would have to find a way to keep up with work while helping his daughter move ahead with her career.

He said the family has always stood behind Kristi and her three older brothers but never insisted they do anything.

"We didn't push Kristi, but it was like with her brothers, we used to do all the Little League games. We didn't drop them off; we went, and we'd stay with them. You're there for them," Jerry Beinhauer said. "But I've always said 'enjoy it.' When it's not fun anymore, you've got to do something else."

His daughter said she's still having fun.

"By the time I'm 22, I'd like to be at the Met," she said, refering to New York's Metropolitan Opera.

But if Broadway comes calling instead, that's okay too, she said.

Either way, Beinhauer said the key is being persistent, open to new challenges and willing to try.

"You can't be shy, and you can't be sensitive," she said. "You'll get your feelings hurt in a minute."

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