As a preliminary, whet-the-appetite promo for Jan. 28's "Kids Night On Broadway" event, four young people are getting to "shadow" actors and technical staffers working on Broadway. On Jan. 22 and 23, the kids, ranging from 8-12, will do everything from helping usher a Broadway show to dressing up as a Beast and a King.
Winners were selected from charter members of the new "Only Broadway For Kids Club," expected to go far beyond the one-night "Kid's Night" in bringing a new generation to Broadway.
The lucky winners? Jennifer Caso, 8, who gets to join her grandma, Lulu, head usher for Victor/Victoria; Lena Sradnick, 11, who will observe Grease! box office treasurer, Gail Yerkovich; and Suzanne Nathan, 10, catching a backstage glimpse of the wardrobe department of Beauty And The Beast, guided by cast members Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Joseph DiConcetto.
I was able to shadow Ben Nathan, 12, as he shadowed Kenji Miyata, a cast-member of The King And I. Ben got to dress in clothes used for the musical's "dock-side" scene (where the Siamese children panhandle) and hang out in Miyata's dressing room with other young cast-members Matthew Ballinger (Anna's son) and Jimmy Higa (the King's son).
Asked how maintaining a Broadway schedule conflicted with his schoolwork and social time, Miyata said that the toughest part was not getting home on weeknights until midnight. Jonathan Giordano, understudy for all the children (including non-gender specific roles usually played by girls), has it a bit easier, for he generally gets to read and work while the show is going on. "When I first started it was really boring, but I like it now. I get an understudy rehearsal once a week because I also stand by for Matthew." Shy and a bit nervous, Ben told me he has danced for four years with the Jacques D'Amboise company, "but this is as close as I've ever come to a Broadway experience." An soft-spoken asthma-sufferer, Ben admitted he'd be an unlikely candidate for a Broadway musical, but he was rightly awed by the hubbub of a Broadway backstage mere minutes before a Wednesday matinee. "We [the D'Amboise company] danced at the Kennedy Center Honors for the President in December , but it was nothing like this..no makeup, no hair..."
Ben told me this as we watched King And I hairdresser Darlene shpritz one young girl's hair, comb it out with gel, stack it in a tiny top bun, and cover it with a hairnet. Meanwhile, supervisor Michael checked the boys' "shmattas" (the non-royal headgear). It also fell to Michael to calm the kids' high spirits and keep the room noise down as audiences filed into the theatre below. "We fill in on the things the kids can't do," Michael told me, meaning the last minute touch-ups and changes needed during the running of the show.
It was then time for last-minute warmups. All the cast kids went into a small room where their supervisor, Gay Merwin, gently gave them notes ("Don't stop when you're backing up..keep going and let Anna get to you" and "Leave your costumes alone when you're on stage, it's very distracting to the audience and to the other performers"). Then the boom-box went on and the kids warmed up with "There's No Place Like Home."
Only five minutes later, the stage would be the kids' home. Ben, happily awed by his first Broadway experience, changed back into street clothes and joined the audience to view the final product of all this Broadway magic: Donna Murphy, Lou Diamond Phillips' understudy, Raul Aranas; and a lot of great kids, in The King And I.
For more information about Kids Night Broadway, please see Playbill On-Line's story, "First Lady May Open First `Kids Night on B'way,' Jan. 28."
--By David Lefkowitz