A Family Affair: A Glimpse Into Life With a Family of New York Actors

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18 Dec 2012

Timothy Shew as Jean Valjean

Tim's stage career also provided a once-in-a-lifetime experience for father and son. Tim, who was the youngest actor to ever play Jean Valjean in the Broadway production of Les Miserables in 1988, was asked to star in the 10th anniversary Australian staging of the hit musical in 1997. He has returned to the role several times since.

"Jonathan did all of sixth grade in Australia," Tim explains. "I took him with me for almost a year. I was there alone. Of course I surrounded myself with a lot of support and help. That's a very demanding role, in addition to the demands of raising a child! I look back and I wonder, 'How on earth did that happen?'"

In the years that followed, both Jane and Tim would take jobs that meant one parent was able to be home with a school-aged Jonathan. Jane says, "I was really fortunate in the beginning stages of raising Jonathan that I was doing A Christmas Carol [at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden] during the holidays. Then, May through July, I might be out of town, but Tim would have a gig in New York. Or if he'd have a better gig, then I'd stay in New York with Jonathan. It's those kind of choices you have to make as an actor and a parent, and it all works out."

Despite being immersed in theatre for the entirety of his life, Jonathan's early focus was on music. "Most families tell their kids, 'You have to practice your piano for 30 minutes before you can go play,'" Jane remembers. "We'd have to say, 'OK, you have to do 30 minutes of homework and then you'll get to play the piano.'"

But, as fate would have it, a music-minded Jonathan landed the plum role of Tony in the LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts' production of West Side Story. It was a game changer.

Jonathan Shew

"I said, 'Run — don't walk — away from this thing!,'" Tim says with a laugh, recalling Jonathan's announcement that he wanted to pursue acting. "He probably gets more advice from us than he cares to hear," adds Jane. "That's what happens when we all live together."

Passion for their work and family is what drives the trio. After an Off-Broadway run in Voca People, Jonathan is relishing the high-tenor role of Gabe in Next to Normal, a show he fell in love with when he first saw the Broadway production.

"This show, for me, is in the top five shows I've ever seen," he beams. "I'm really experiencing what I love about being an actor. The rush you get when you go on stage. It's not a job being on stage with great actors. My interaction with them becomes so real, and that is now what I am finding to be such a draw. You escape who you are and create this whole new person on stage and connect. Then the response you get from doing that is so cool."

For Jane, who understudied and performed the role of Margaret in the first national tour of The Light in the Piazza, that passion continues to evolve.

"When you're younger, the fire is to be in a certain show, or you see a show and think, 'Oh, I've got to play that part!,'" she says. "You have this desire to get to be on stage and do what you love. There is still a big part of that there for me, but now I also have an additional set of priorities — what we might need for a family. Wicked is great, because it's not just a good job, it's such a fun show to do. It's a luxury to be in a hit."


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