By Maddy Vitale
Kelli Rabke has it all figured out. The former Broadway performer who took a decade off to raise a family, didn’t just let her career end as an extraordinary memory.
Instead, Rabke, of Bergen County, returned to the stage to fulfill her greatest passion – singing.
Now, just four years later, she headlines cabaret shows and symphony concerts.
And on April 7, during Girls Weekend in Ocean City, Rabke’s real-life experiences will serve as the script for her new show, “Defying Gravity” at the Music Pier.
A combination of Broadway standards, pop and country tunes, make for a show Rabke thinks a lot of women will understand. Her performance will include a backup singer, piano, guitar, bass, drums and violin.
“We wanted to take the idea of the show on Girls Weekend to tell my story, which I think women will be able to relate to,” Rabke explained in a phone interview.
The show will tell through song of a mother with a career, who is going through a divorce and cannot only survive but thrive.
“I hope these songs sort of tell a personal story of me,” she said. “Everyone has to juggle things in life and we all go through heartbreaks.”
Rabke said she has visited Ocean City a couple of times and can’t wait to come back.
“I came once with the kids. We rode bicycles and stayed overnight. I was also there with the grownups after I performed with the Ocean City Pops,” Rabke said. “I love it down there. It was so much fun performing with the Pops on the Music Pier.”
Rabke said she is also looking forward to seeing her friend Michael Hartman, special events coordinator for Ocean City, whom she credited with helping her venture into the world of cabaret.
Hartman said he can’t wait for her show.
“Kelli’s talent is much bigger than just being a great singer,” Hartman said. “She is a storyteller and she effortlessly brings audience members on a journey, with every song. I look forward to seeing her shine on the Music Pier this April.”
While performing is Rabke’s passion, her children, Joseph, 14, and Abigale, 8, are her greatest loves.
But to be complete, she needed to figure out how to enjoy motherhood and a career, she explained.
“We all need something to inspire us, whether it is meditation, yoga, traveling, a career, we all need something for ourselves,” she remarked.
And spending 10 years out of the spotlight made her feel like a piece of her was missing, she said.
“It was a personal journey from stage to motherhood and back again,” Rabke said.
With cabaret shows and symphonies comes travel, something Rabke said can lead to a hectic schedule. Luckily, she and her estranged husband are on amicable terms and he takes the children when she performs. She also makes sure her shows only take her from home for a couple of days here or there, she said.
“I travel with three different symphonies,” Rabke said. “I am away in spurts. Sometimes I do two shows and I am gone a couple of days.”
She recalled a skating event her daughter Abigale was in. She opted to stay home instead of going with the symphony.
“My kids need me at home,” Rabke said. “They grew up with their mom being there, so I try to balance that out.”
Rabke’s debut after she returned to the stage was a sold-out cabaret show, “No Place Like Home,” followed by “The Wizard and I” by Stephen Schwartz.
In the 1990s she played “Eponine” in Les Misérables on Broadway. She has also done regional theatre. One of her most recent highlights of her career was singing a song on the Today Show written by David Friedman and Kathie Lee Gifford.
Advice to anyone interested in show business is this: Get a college degree so that if it doesn’t work out you could fall back on your education.
“It is a roller coaster ride. You need to be well-trained,” Rabke said. “Study and be as prepared as you can. You also need to be realistic about it and give it a certain amount of years.”
Rabke, who is upbeat, laughs a lot and describes herself as “naturally energetic” and never drinks coffee said, her zest for life comes from her love for her children and performing.
And somehow, she has found a way to make both facets of her life work.
“I am so happy to be performing again,” she said. “I missed the adrenalin rush from going onstage. It felt like I was asleep, and I woke up.”
For more information about Kelli Rabke visit www.kellirabke.com. To purchase tickets to her show “Defying Gravity” at the Ocean City Music Pier at 7:30 p.m. April 7 go to www.oceancityvacation.com/boxoffice.