There's an old adage in show business, often attributed to W.C. Fields; "never work with children or animals." However wise those words may be, sometimes you just have to. Some scripts just call for it. There are creative, innovative ways to work around this, even to do so artistically as in the case of Julie Taymor's visionary use of puppets in The Lion King, but eventually everyone winds up in more mixed company. Even Arthur Laurents, when he used stuffed animals for the little lamb and Chowsie the dog in Gypsy, had to contend with real-life kids for the juvenile roles. Of course, children grow up to be adults and today's backstage brat may be tomorrow's Tony Award winner, so you should never underestimate the members of the cast who are minors.
Click through to read my selections for the Top Ten Child Actors Who Grew Up To Be Broadway Stars.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger is a Broadway baby in every sense of the phrase. He played classic children's roles on Broadway including Chip in Beauty And The Beast and JoJo in Seussical and has grown up to be the epitome of the millennial theatre actor. While playing increasingly high-profile roles on stage and screen (including Chris Miller, Nathan Tysen and Claudia Shear's Broadway-bound Tuck Everlasting), Keenan-Bolger continues to cultivate his wide-scale web presence across various platforms, and Penguin Random House recently published his children's book, "Jack & Louisa: Act One," co-written with Kate Wetherhead. And Keenan-Bolger comes from a Broadway family; his sister is three-time Tony-nominee Celia Keenan-Bolger.
Future Legally Blonde and Hairspray star Laura Bell Bundy made a splash Off-Broadway as Tina Denmark in the 1992 hit Ruthless! The pint-sized triple threat was nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards and played various roles (including Dainty June in Gypsy opposite Betty Buckley's Rose at the Paper Mill Playhouse) before matriculating to her full adult career. Today, she's a successful country singer, still capitalizing on her irresistible charisma and undeniable vocal power, but Broadway remains hopeful for the return of Laura Bell.
Speaking of Ruthless!, one of Laura Bell Bundy's understudies in the original production was Academy Award winner Natalie Portman. (Her other understudy was a pre-"Mickey Mouse Club" Britney Spears!) Portman is a bit of a stretch for this list, as her "adult" theatre credits are limited to playing the title role in James Lapine's 1997 Broadway revival of The Diary of Anne Frank and the role of Nina in George C. Wolfe's all-star 2001 Shakespeare-in-the-Park production of The Seagull, when she was 16 and 20, respectively. Nonetheless, Portman is an international superstar and can be counted as one of Broadway's babies.
7. Nick Jonas
Nick Jonas may be best known as one of the massively popular Jonas Brothers. He is, however, without question, also a Broadway star. Jonas began his career on Broadway as Gavroche in Les Misérables, Chip in Beauty and the Beast and as one of the kids in Annie Get Your Gun. And he has returned to the stage as an adult many times in the years since, including a run replacing Daniel Radcliffe as J. Pierrepont Finch in the recent revival of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Without knowing what his next theatrical venture will be, it's safe to bet it will be a major event.
6. Lea Michele
To Lea Michele's millions of fans from her work on the long-running Fox series "Glee," it is no surprise that she comes from the world of Broadway. A major difference between Michele and her character on "Glee," Rachel Berry, began as a Streisand-obsessed teenager who dreams of Broadway, while the real Lea Michele is a bonafide star. She played a number of kid parts on Broadway including Young Cosette in Les Misérables, the Little Girl in Ragtime and one of Tevye's younger daughters in Fiddler On The Roof, before creating the role of Wendla in the hit musical Spring Awakening. And now, apparently, "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy has secured the rights to produce a revival of Funny Girl as a vehicle for Rachel Berry, I mean Lea Michelle. It's life imitating art.
While the bulk of Christian Slater's career has been in film and television, he has essayed a couple of major roles on Broadway, namely Tom in The Glass Menagerie opposite Jessica Lange and a replacement run in Warren Leight's Side Man. Long before any of that, though, Slater was one of Broadway's most in-demand child actors appearing in multiple roles, including playing Winthrop (singing "The Wells Fargo Wagon") opposite Dick Van Dyke in The Music Man in 1980.
While Cynthia Nixon is best known for her role as Miranda on the long-running series "Sex and the City" as well as in its successful movie spin-offs, she has also made a rich and varied career on stage in New York City. Her numerous Broadway credits include recent roles in The Real Thing, Wit and Rabbit Hole, and her theatrical resume goes all the way back to her Main Stem debut in The Philadelphia Story when she was only 14 years old.
Nixon's "Sex and the City" co-star Sarah Jessica Parker also started out as a child actor, making her Broadway debut at age 11 in 1976's The Innocents and subsequently starring as a replacement in the title role of Annie, before going on major Hollywood stardom. Throughout her career, Parker, has often returned to the New York stage, most recently Off-Broadway in Manhattan Theatre Club's The Commons of Penascola and numerous Broadway outings including starring as Princess Winifred in the 1996 revival of Once Upon A Mattress.
Any article on this topic would be remiss without mention of Broadway's ultimate child star, original star of Annie, Andrea McArdle. McArdle held her own on the stage opposite the titanic force of Tony-winning original Miss Hannigan Dorothy Loudon and reverberations of this legendary combination can still be felt today. There are kids who can belt out a song and kids who are cute and kids who are funny, but McArdle's power was immediately recognizable as a Broadway superstar who just happened to be very young. McArdle has yet to find a role as defining and significant as Annie — indeed there are precious few of such roles to be found by anyone — but her star continues to shine brightly and any McArdle performance is a magical musical theatre moment to be savored.
Speaking of magical musical theatre moments to be savored, three-time Tony Award-winner Bernadette Peters lights up the scene anytime she steps onto the boards. Peters's command of the stage and mesmerizing presence have been a highlight of every production she's been in since her professional debut in 1958 at age nine. This luminous Broadway star has never stayed away for too long and has consistently been one the American theatre's most celebrated treasures. Long live Bernadette!
(Ben Rimalower is the author and star of the critically acclaimed solo plays Patti Issues and Bad with Money, running in repertory through April 29 at The Duplex in NYC. Read Playbill's coverage of the show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)