Growing Up Broadway: Meet Kid Actors From Cat, Annie, Matilda, Drood and Newsies
By Michael Gioia
With nearly half of Broadway shows currently on the boards populated with children under the age of 18, we sit down with a few of them to talk about what it's like growing up on stage.
"I never remember deciding that I wanted to be an actor," explains an 11-year-old Victoria Leigh from her dressing room at Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre. "It kind of just happened."
While her classmates at New York City's Professional Performing Arts School were preparing for the school play, Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, Leigh was busy preparing for her Broadway debut as Dixie in the current revival of Tennessee Williams' Cat On a Hot Tin Roof. The young actress had to back out of the school play to begin rehearsals for Broadway.
Sacrificing extra-curricular activities and time for friends can play a part in an actor's life when he or she is bound for Broadway at a young age. Jaidyn Young, the 11-year-old swing of this season's Annie, temporarily gave up life on the West Coast for her Broadway dreams. "I sang all the Broadway songs, and I knew all the Broadway shows, but I never [thought], 'Someday that's going to be me,'" says Young, who moved with her mother to Manhattan for the show while her father and older sister stayed in California.
Although friends and family are hours away, nothing beats belting out the iconic Annie anthems on the Palace Theatre's stage for thousands of New York City theatregoers. "It was very surreal," says Young — smiling ear to ear — about making her Broadway debut. "In the bed, when we get pushed out [onto the stage], the girl who plays July was squeezing my hand so hard, I thought I was going to lose blood! Everyone was so excited for me."
Exciting is how ten-year-old Newsies actor Jake Lucas describes his first night "Carrying the Banner" on Broadway. "It's really, really fun being on stage and dancing with a lot of really incredible dancers — doing all their flips and turns in front of me," says Lucas, who plays the youngest newsboy of the bunch, Les. "It's really, really cool!"
Like Lucas, Matilda the Musical's Jack Broderick and The Mystery of Edwin Drood's Nicholas Barasch relish the fact that they're sharing the stage with such talents. Broderick, who will turn 13 by the time Matilda begins previews March 4, starred as the narrator in the 2012 Shakespeare in the Park production of Into the Woods. "It was fun," he says, "because we had Amy Adams and Donna Murphy and Denis O'Hare, and they were really nice and welcoming." On the other hand, Barasch, 14, admitted that he was "so nervous, especially when Chita [Rivera] walked in" on his first day of rehearsal for Edwin Drood.
With greatness, however, comes great responsibility, and all five actors dish about balancing school and social lives while starring on the Great White Way. "I mean, it gets to be stressful, but you just breathe deep," explains Broderick during a rehearsal for Matilda. A typical rehearsal for the child ensemble of the new musical consists of "school" in the morning and learning material for the show in the afternoon.
As per Actors' Equity Association guidelines, child performers who haven't finished high school must be provided with an accredited tutor from the production's point of origin until one week after opening night. This applies to original cast members of Broadway shows, tours, or out-of-town tryouts.
After opening, some actors continue to be home-schooled, some return to public school, and some take part in independent studies. "I used to be in a public school when I [performed] at the Met Opera," says Newsies' Lucas, "and they didn't really like me going to rehearsals all of the time, so my dad and I sat down, and we created a spreadsheet — how much time we're spending at school — and we realized that home-schooling was a better option."
For Cat On a Hot Tin Roof's Leigh, being around her peers far outweighs the hectic hours of late-night shows and early-morning school days. "I went to school on Tuesday," she says, "and I thought, 'People my age! They exist!'"
Barasch, who plays the Deputy in the acclaimed, and extended, revival of Edwin Drood — and who has yet to begin high school — says, "I will probably go to high school in March when [the show] ends. I would definitely say I'm uneasy because everyone has already settled into the school, and I'm the newcomer. I'm sure the first week is going to be terrifying, but after that I'm sure it will be fine."
"I do an independent study through my school district in California," explains Annie's Young, "so I still can do all of the homework that my friends are doing, which is cool because if I'm stuck on something I can ask them."
Speaking of school, earnings from the actors' Broadway careers can provide a nice foundation for a college education. New York state law requires 15 percent of a child's gross earnings to be placed in a trust fund that can be accessed in his or her adult life.
For now, though, soaking up life on Broadway — the Mecca of theatre and stomping ground of legendary performers — is the only thing on their minds: Thunderous applause. Standing ovations. Signing autographs. Television appearances. Award ceremonies.
"For right now, I love being an actor," says Barasch. "I still can't believe it. Every day I think, ''What am I doing?!'"
(This feature appears in the February 2013 issue of Playbill. Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work also appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)
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