Wanted: Child Actor. (Make That Four)

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27 May 2013

Daisy Eagan and Alison Fraser in <em>The Secret Garden</em>.
Daisy Eagan and Alison Fraser in The Secret Garden.
Photo by Bob Marshak

In 1991, actress Daisy Eagan became the youngest female stage performer ever to win a Tony Award. She was 11 when she won Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance as Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden.

In 2013, the child performer who portrays the title role in Matilda The Musical will receive Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre. Make that child performers; the Honors will go to Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon and Milly Shapiro.

As with the musical Billy Elliot, which premiered on Broadway in 2008, multiple actors play the youthful lead role in Matilda, alternating different performances. Back in 1991, meanwhile, Eagan was all on her lonesome, playing eight shows a week of The Secret Garden for the first three months, until her school schedule interfered. After that, she did a mere six a week.

What's happened over the last two decades? Have child musical roles gotten tougher? Or have child actors become less tough? Why are three or four performers needed to do what one could once handle alone?

"Daisy was amazing in that role," said Nora Brennan, who was casting director of the children for both Billy Elliot and Matilda, and has, in recent years, made a specialty of finding young performers for stage shows. But today, "there are shows with these large casts of children and the requirements are so high—the kind of dancing they are required to do now is so much more difficult that, say, years ago in The King and I or The Sound of Music."


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