By Abigail Haddock

Xavier McKnight is a member of a small yet distinguished crowd: a true Conch cast in a nationally touring musical. McKnight was born in Key West, raised in Marathon, and is now acting in New York City. He started acting for Coral Shores High School at the age of 14, and initially planned to go into music education after graduation. However, his band director convinced him to go to New York in pursuit of a musical theater career. Fresh off a successful run as the Minstrel in “Something Rotten” at Key West’s Waterfront Playhouse, his credits today include the national tour of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” as well as several other regional shows across New York and the Keys. McKnight was kind enough to sit down with Keys Weekly after the conclusion of “Something Rotten” to share a bit more about his story:

Full name? Xavier Ryan McKnight

What’s your favorite thing about Marathon? The beach! I love Sombrero beach; I think it’s the best beach in the Keys.

Do you have an “only in the Keys” moment? I was in Key West watching the Conch Republic parade, and everyone barely decorated, but they all had their boats in the parade. It was just a bunch of boats going down Duval Street.

And an “only in New York” moment? You get live entertainment that you don’t want, as people just randomly put on shows in the subway and force you to watch. And then they expect you to tip them, when you didn’t ask to watch the show! 

What is your proudest accomplishment so far? I was the first black actor to play the role of young Max in the national tour of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and that was a lot. I was very stressed, and I wanted to do a good job and inspire all the little black and queer kids who are trying to get into theater. And I think I did … fine (laughs).

We’ve seen you on stage, and we’re certain that “fine” is not the descriptor. Okay, I think I did a good job. There we go. I think I did good, I’ll just say it!

If you could change one thing about the theater world, what would it be? I would make it more inclusive. It’s called “The Great White Way” for a reason. Yes, they’re trying to do more colorblind casting, but I also feel like it might not last. Because of the protests and the marches that happened in 2020, they’re trying to seem like they’re being more inclusive, but we have to see if they’ll stick to it. I would love to see more queer stories, more black stories, more black writers, more women of color.

Any advice for people wanting to get on stage? Like Nike says: just do it! You will never know until you try it, and I’m sure you’ll like it. And if you have stage fright, try karaoke first. Get up there, sing some songs, have a drink or two and just let your hair down.

What’s a great introductory show for people who “don’t like theater?” “Wicked.” It’s a spectacle; you get to see a bunch of witches flying around and floating in bubbles.

Musicals turned into movies: good or bad? It depends. There are some that have been done well, and there are some that have been ruined. I think the “Mamma Mia” adaptation was really good, I think the “Hairspray” adaptation was really good, but I think the “Les Mis” one was terrible!

If you could have any musical artist’s works turned into a musical, who would it be? Beyoncé. A Beyoncé musical. We need it.

Who do you consider a role model? My mother, Cindy McKnight. She is such an inspiration to me. Everyone always asked me growing up, “What is it like having a blind mom?” I’m like, “It’s the same as having a mom who can see, except my mom can’t drive.” That is literally the only thing she can’t do. She’s an amazing cook, she’s been at the same job for 30 years and she knows everyone in town. She’s one of the most popular women I have ever met in my life. She’s always in the paper, always doing something, always helping someone.

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