Babes on Broadway
New York Daily News http://www.nydailynews.com
By DREW MacKENZIE
DAILY NEWS WRITER
Wednesday, May 19th, 2004
They are the littlest stars on Broadway pint-size kids with plus-size talent.They start out by singing and dancing around the house, and now they're appearing in front of packed houses in Broadway musicals. Just like Sarah Jessica Parker, who began her career on the stage, these children hope to star in movies and TV shows when they're adults.There are many young stars on Broadway. Here are six of them:
Rajonie Hammond: 12
'The Lion King' as Young Simba
Rajonie Hammond had never been on a stage when he tried out for "The Lion King" three years ago. "My mom's friend had a premonition I was going to perform on Broadway and encouraged me to audition," Rajonie says. The producers didn't offer him the part, but they were so impressed with his energy and stage presence that they paid for singing and dancing lessons. Hammond, of Bloomingdale, N.J., also got himself an agent. He starred in Chuckie Cheese commercials. Last year, he got a callback from the producers who wanted him to try out again for the show and this time he got the part. He started in February and performs in four shows a week, while Danny Fetter plays Young Simba in the other four shows."Rajonie has always been the entertainment at family parties, singing and dancing all the time," his mother, Joan, said. "He's had a lot of talent since he was a baby. But he was not one of those kids who wakes up one day and says, 'I have to be an actor.'""My real passion is rapping," Rajonie says. "I have written and recorded five songs on the computer, and I'm hoping to put out an album one day and have a rap career."
Mitchel David Federan, 12
'The Boy From Oz' as Young Peter Allen
Mitchel David Federan learned to dance when he was 2, at mother Sherry's studio in the Cleveland suburbs. Although Sherry still has the studio, she now employs other dance teachers while renting an apartment in New York so Mitchel can star on Broadway. She home-schools Mitchel and her younger son. Her husband, a Ford Motor Co. engineer, visits from Ohio on weekends. "We never had a plan for Mitchel to be an entertainer," she says. "It just happened. And now we're just trying to work it out for the family as best we can." Mitchel began entering competitions as a toddler, and at 7 he was making his stage debut in Mexico City in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. After developing a singing voice as well, he went on the national tour of "Annie Get Your Gun" and made his Broadway debut in "The Music Man." He also appears in the recurring role of Petey Cortlandt in the soap "All My Children." "I'm hoping to keep acting, doing TV, movies and the theater," says Mitchel, the only child in his show. "I want to do it all."
Heather Tepe, 11
'Gypsy' as Baby June
Heather Tepe began her life in show business by entering beauty contests at 4, and she's won a ton of trophies. After three years of pageants, she started entering singing and dancing contests. Then she realized she wanted to be on the stage. "My dream has become a reality," says Tepe, who also stars with the "Broadway Kids" touring group, performing show tunes. "I really love what I do." Heather, of Little Falls, N.J., launched her stage career in the Off-Broadway musical "The People's Garden" and now appears in eight shows a week in "Gypsy" opposite Bernadette Peters. (The show ends its 14-month run May 30.) "She's so kind and talented," says Tepe. "She always takes time to help the kids in the show. Bernadette is a great inspiration to me. I hope that one day I'll have her career." Each day, Heather leaves for Broadway after she finishes school, squeezing in her homework on her way to the theater or in her dressing room when she's not on stage. Her mother, Karen, says that Heather was born to be on Broadway. "Virtually ever since she could walk and talk, she's been singing and dancing. She always needs to be on a stage performing."
Henry Hodges, 10
'Beauty and the Beast' as Chip
Henry Hodges was just 3 when his pediatrician suggested that he should be an actor. "I was very calm and funny while having my shots," says Henry. "The doctor's mother was a former talent agent and she helped put me in touch with a manager. "The next year, he was in "A Christmas Carol" at Washington's Ford Theatre near his home in Bethesda, Md. Since then, he appeared in two operas and has since made three movies and a toy commercial. His mother, Jane, who home-schools her son, says: "He's a natural singer and even auditioned for one show by singing a cappella." While appearing in "Beauty and the Beast" four times a week, Henry and his mom live in an apartment on the West Side. His father and sister visit on weekends. Says Mom: "Every night on the car ride home, his dad calls from Maryland and reads him passages of Harry Potter books. That's how they stay close."
Aja Maria Johnson, 13
'Hairspray' as Little Inez
Aja Maria had never even been to New York when she arrived last year for an open audition for "Hairspray." Aja, who had been performing in small playhouses and school plays in Baltimore since she was 7, wowed the producers. She's now living with her mom, Shawann Henderson, a letter carrier, in a N.Y. apartment while getting her education from DVDs. "I watch five hours of classes a day on TV and my mother gives me homework from the books that accompany the DVDs," she says. Once a month they return to Baltimore to spend a weekend with Henderson's husband, Mark. Henderson, who has been given a year's leave of absence from her job, says: "When I took her to a musical at 6, Aja told me that she was going to sing and dance on stage." Aja is planning to go to a high school for the performing arts later this year and then hopes to make it in Hollywood. "I really want to be an actress," she adds.
Harrison Chad, 11
'Caroline, or Change' as Noah
Harrison Chad first broke into Broadway at the age of 7, when he was the understudy for the title role in "Peter Pan." "My uncle thought I had stage presence," says Chad, "and he arranged for me to see his friend who's a talent manager." The agent put him in three national TV commercials in six weeks and sent him for an audition. And although he'd never sung or acted before, he was picked to play Peter's pal Michael. Harrison went on to appear in "Les Miserables" and "Beauty and the Beast" before being plucked to play a major role in "Caroline, or Change." He also has a small part in the soap "As the World Turns" and appears on Nickelodeon's "Dora the Explorer." "I do eight shows a week, but I still find time to play sports and hang with my friends," says Harrison, an A-student from Huntington. "I do my homework while Mom drives me to work. I don't know what I want to do when I grow up. I'm only 11 *#151; I'm still a kid, you know." His mother, Mali, runs an accounting company with her husband, but has had to cut back on her work to make herself available for her son's career. "My brother thought Harrison had a spark and urged me to put him in show business," she says. "It's taken on a life of its own."
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