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I was reading the discussion about the Matilda's not coming out to sign autographs and I found this article that I find very interesting to read. It features interviews from the director of "Matilda" as to the reason of four Matilda's and why they don't do autographs and it also features a section about Lilla in Annie and the actor playing Young Michael Jackson in Motown.
It's a very interesting article to read and very informative as well.
Any way to copy & paste the main bits? I can't sign into the NYT. Thanks!
Hi old fan. I was able to cut and paste it. We discussed this article here some time ago but the original link doesn't work anymore. So thanks to Alex for the repost because his link works fine.
Thanks, Elizabeth Ann! That was kind of you. I enjoyed the article.I did read it before but this refresher was great!
I personally agree with the Matilda policy, for the kids' sake, even if it disappoints fans.Wonder what James Lapine thinks now of having two Annies. I think it's a great idea especially when there are two children prime for the role.
Sixteen “revolting children” battle a tyrannical schoolteacher in “Matilda the Musical” while 10 orphans outwit Miss Hannigan in “Annie” (including swing actors and understudies). A kid in “Kinky Boots” tests out his first pair of red high heels; a few blocks away a young Michael Jackson struts across the stage in “Motown the Musical.”
“Newsies” and “The Lion King” pulse with the leaping energy of young stars. There is even a boy in a straight play, “The Assembled Parties,” who takes his role very seriously, even though he’s in only one scene. “He comes up and says, ‘Any notes for me?’ ” said Lynne Meadow, the director.
With nine shows featuring child actors, Broadway stages are teeming with little ones right now, and the business of tending to them is booming — meaning tutors, casting agents, kids-only dressing rooms and minders (otherwise known as “wranglers”) who greet the youthful performers at the stage door, keeping backstage a no-parents zone.
“It does seem like a kid-heavy moment,” said Bernard Telsey, a longtime casting director. “Many more musicals not only have kids in smaller parts” but those young actors “are actually carrying shows.”
That doesn’t mean the city has been overrun by aggressive Momma Roses and their offspring desperate to entertain you. Directors say they have sought out just the opposite — smart, accomplished, often quirky kids and parents committed to keeping their children’s feet firmly planted on the ground.
“They are aware of the prominence they’re a part of,” said Matthew Warchus, the director of “Matilda,” adding, “It’s very easy to inflame that in somebody: publicists and the sort of grandiose, almost divalike cars picking you up and taking you home, special tables at restaurants that can contribute to a fantasy. I’m all for cooling it down.”
Ask Daisy Eagan, who at 11 was the youngest girl ever to win a Tony, for “The Secret Garden,” only to have a breakdown and quit acting. She returned to the theater just two years ago with a cabaret show reflecting on the experience.
There is a heady glamour to performing on Broadway — staying up late, being surrounded by autograph seekers at the stage door — when your school friends are home doing the holiday pageant with crepe-paper props.
Yet the opportunity comes with costs. Some families have to relocate. Children still have to go to school in the morning even after commuting home from evening shows. (They’re tutored during the all-day rehearsal periods.) There’s often no time for the normal stuff of childhood, like birthday parties, sports teams and sleepovers.
Since parents are generally not allowed backstage, the chaperoning falls to wranglers like Thomas Bradfield, an aspiring actor who prefers working as a guardian at “Pippin” to his former job selling merchandise in the theater lobby of “Beauty and the Beast”; and Lisa Swift, of “Motown,” who also does tutoring and finds herself bereft when her charges move on.
“I really do become attached,” she said. “I’m with the boys more than I’m with anyone.”
One of the young Michael Jacksons in “Motown” already grew too tall and had to leave the cast. “Annie” periodically has a measuring day. “They just grow,” said Mr. Telsey, whose agency looked at 5,000 audition videos and combed talent agencies nationwide to cast “Annie.”
Even if kids don’t get physically bigger, they grow up fast among professional adults, occupying an unusual netherworld between the razzle-dazzle of the Great White Way and the rough and tumble of regular childhood.
“People say, ‘What about a normal life?’ ” said Bridget Mills, who looks after the “Kinky Boots” actors. “But what about this once-in-a-lifetime experience?”
Here’s a look behind the curtain at the lives of nine young actors for whom this season has been both reality and fairy tale.
‘This is not a moneymaking proposition.’
Don’t get him wrong: Raymond Luke is thrilled to have his 13-year-old son, Raymond Jr., in “Motown the Musical.” He bursts with pride watching his son play both the young Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, and hearing people roar when Raymond takes his bow. But Mr. Luke has also upended his life for this, leaving his wife and four other children — 12, 11, 9 and 18 months — back home in South Central Los Angeles.
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His days are devoted to Raymond Jr., getting him to and from the $1,300-a-month apartment they’ve rented in the East New York section of Brooklyn, using two subway lines; making sure his son keeps up with his online curriculum; brewing green tea to preserve Raymond Jr.'s voice; and buying him a $60 suit when he needed to look nice for an awards ceremony.
“I want him to focus on the show,” Mr. Luke said. “I worry about the other stuff.”
New York City is a hard place to conserve money, but Mr. Luke has to save what he can. After taxes, his son’s $2,000-a-week salary barely covers their expenses, including rent (plus $345 a month in utilities); cabs home late from the theater; eating out on matinee days because there isn’t time to cook at home between shows; and plane fare so the rest of the family can visit (the Lukes asked friends for donations at their going-away party).
“This is not a moneymaking proposition,” Mr. Luke said. “We’re struggling.”
Mr. Luke recently started working as an usher at “Motown” for additional income. Back home Raymond Jr.'s mother, Nicole, is a sales operation analyst for Belkin International and his grandmother helps with child care. They see the show as an investment in Raymond’s future. (He alternates with Darius Kaleb in the part).
Agents have come to see “Motown,” along with stars like Spike Lee and Diana Ross. Raymond Jr. hopes his time in the spotlight leads to a role on the Disney channel. “I want to be a singer for the rest of my life,” he said.
‘They’re all Matilda and that’s it.’
In England, where “Matilda the Musical” originated, the law mandates that every part reserved for a child must be shared by at least three actors for certain shows. But for the title role, Matthew Warchus, the director, insisted on four.
It wasn’t just to help avoid burnout, but to give the girls a chance to return to their regular lives between performances and to avert any kind of star system. “I’m responsible for children whose lives I disrupt by getting them to be in a play for the dramatic benefits,” Mr. Warchus said. “I’m the winner and I want to make sure the kids are not losers in any way.”
He established several strict rules for Broadway’s four Matildas (Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon and Milly Shapiro.) They must be interviewed together or not at all; their performance rotation is always changing so that audience members cannot target their tickets for any particular Matilda (each goes on twice a week and stands by twice a week). Even fellow cast members don’t always know which one they’re performing with till they get on stage. All special events — from opening night to the show’s number on the Tony Awards next Sunday — are equally distributed. (Instead of making the quartet eligible to compete for the best actress prize, a Tony committee chose to give them a special award instead.)
“We’re really rigorous about it,” Mr. Warchus said. “It’s four or you don’t get them. It’s probably annoying but there’s a bigger thing at stake here. If one gets overexposed, people will think that’s the real Matilda. So they’re all Matilda and that’s it.”
The girls cannot sign autographs after the show. In fact, they’re supposed to depart through a different stage door. This can be a little tough — one little girl cried when Sophia told her she could not sign her Playbill. But in general the parents say they approve of the approach. “It addresses any potential competition but also protects their privacy,” said Michelle Shapiro, Milly’s mother.
The emphasis on parity has fostered a spirit of sisterhood. The girls practiced their British accents together with a dialect coach and took boxing lessons together to toughen up for the feisty Matilda. “We’re besties,” said Oona, 10, who has been acting since age 5, when she played the lead in an experimental film made by her father. “Since we were in every rehearsal with each other and we learned the show together, it’s kind of hard not to be friends.”
The parents, too, have bonded. They wait together to pick up their daughters, often in the lobbies of Times Square hotels — which they’d rather not name, since they’ve been kicked out for lingering too long.
But while they cater to their children, they also try to keep them humble. “She still has to make her bed, she still has to load the dishwasher,” said Ciara Driscoll, the mother of Bailey, 11 — both of whom have moved to New York from Pennsylvania for the show, leaving Bailey’s four siblings home with their father.
Indeed, the girls seem to know there is life beyond showbiz. “I kind of want to be a performer and an environmental lawyer,” said Milly, 10. “I just want what’s right for the world. Otherwise we are going to die of pollution and then we will never see a bird.”
‘I love every part of it. I like being backstage.’
Marquise Neal and Sebastian Hedges Thomas bound on stage during the opening number of “Kinky Boots” — Marquise as a young version of the drag queen Lola, who dances in a pair of red high heels; Sebastian as Charlie Price, who grows up to inherit his father’s shoe business.
They’re not on again until the finale. That gives two energetic boys, 12 and 10, two full hours to fill backstage eight times a week.
Like the grown-up actors who’ve made use of easily accessible technologies to create theater-set Web comedies, they’ve begun using the time to explore creative outlets beyond the stage. They dream up puppet shows for each other and for their wrangler, Bridget Mills, which they film with iMovie in their small dressing room. Recently Marquise created his own puppet out of a towel, felt and googly eyes that a cast member from the puppet musical “Avenue Q” sent over. He calls him Leon.
“I got inspired,” Marquise said. “Ever since I was little, I was a big fan of Elmo.”
“The Brandon Show,” as the kids call the result, is definitely the product of boys with time on their hands — a rambunctious, improvised sort-of talk show (puppets are thrown), which sometimes spills beyond the dressing room and into the stairwells and hallways of the Al Hirschfeld Theater. Sebastian does the editing. There have been six segments so far; the duo recently posted one on YouTube.
Sebastian knows the hurry-up-and-wait routine that comes with a supporting part in a big show; he appeared on Broadway in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” in 2011 and in the national tour of “Beauty and the Beast.”
“I love every part of it,” he said. “I like being backstage, I like learning about other shows — whether there are ghosts in the theater. I saw one in a mirror. It was like this guy with blonde hair in his eyes. I looked into the mirror and he just disappeared.”
Stephanie Hedges Thomas, his mother, is well aware that the life of a performer can be full of rejection. But she and her husband are taking their cues from their son. “If he at any moment says he doesn’t want to do this,” she said, “we’ll do something else.”
For Marquise, his Broadway debut — and the time he’s spent with Sebastian — has already been worthwhile. “We’re best friends,” he said.
‘We think about it as studying abroad, or a sabbatical.’
Andrew Cekala’s mother and father live in a Boston suburb and have another child in junior high school. So when “Pippin” moved to Broadway from the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., the Cekalas rented an apartment in New York and hired Orion Griffiths, one of the acrobats in the show, and his wife, Karly O’Keefe, to live there with Andrew, 13, during the week. The parents take turns coming to Manhattan for long weekends.
“You follow your kid’s passion, and you can tell by their personalities what they’re drawn to, and that’s sort of what we did with Andrew,” said Carol Cekala, his mother. “We think about it as studying abroad or a sabbatical for him.”
Andrew, who plays Theo, says he’s fine with the arrangement. Ms. O’Keefe takes him to and from the Professional Children’s School, where he has full days as a student except on matinee days. Mr. Griffiths meets him back at the apartment, and they walk to the theater together. While he is the only child in the cast, many of the mothers in the company invite him to their children’s birthday parties.
Although he wakes up at 6:30 and doesn’t get to bed until just before midnight, Andrew said he wasn’t tired during the day. Somehow he even manages to practice the cello.
“When I’m at school, all the energy in the room wakes me up,” he said.
He also doesn’t mind being away from his parents and friends.
“He was born 40,” Ms. Cekala said. “In many ways I could leave him in an apartment by himself — which I would never do. He can cook for himself. He’s like a little adult, and that’s the way he’s always been.”
‘I wouldn’t mind a day off.’
Perhaps no young character’s part is more taxing than the title role in “Annie,” which made stars of Andrea McArdle and Sarah Jessica Parker during its initial six-year Broadway run, beginning in 1977.
After a national search for the current Broadway revival, the director James Lapine (aided by the casting director Bernard Telsey and his team) ended up selecting Lilla Crawford, 12, who was in New York performing in “Billy Elliot.”
She had the Annie requirements — moxie, charm and a powerhouse voice. But she also had a quality that may be rarer: innocence.
“You want kids that are not ruined, that haven’t done so many shows that they have sort of lost who they really are,” Mr. Lapine said. “I didn’t want show kids. I wanted kids who had some rough edges to them and were able to be gritty and fearless. Show kids who have been groomed since 3 to be on commercials and TV are very slick, and you don’t have a sense of who’s behind there.”
Annie also needed enough endurance to be able to belt out “Tomorrow” eight times a week and still deliver the goods by promoting the musical on the “Today” show or at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Lilla’s mother, Ann Marie Donahue, is clearly pleased that her daughter is playing the title role. But she said she wasn’t happy about having to cover tutoring costs or about how much extra unpaid work her daughter has to do. “She never actually has Monday off,” she said.
Lilla added: “I like being the only Annie. But don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind a day off.”
Broadway observers wondered how the Tony Awards committee would handle the little girls in big parts this season. Would they follow the precedent set with the three leads in “Billy Elliot,” who were nominated jointly and won?
And what would that mean for Ms. Crawford, who has more stage time and more performances than any of the Matildas?
“I have no idea why they do the four,” Mr. Lapine said of the multiple casting. “I understand why I do the one. I think children often have more stamina than adults do.”
In the end the question went unanswered. Ms. Crawford wasn’t nominated for a Tony. And the Matildas were taken out of regular contention and given a joint special award.
“I’m really happy for them,” Ms. Donahue said, “but I’m a little shocked because their show just opened and they only do two shows a week. I want someone to explain to me what that means.”