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Wendy Perron on Monday, Apr 22, 2013
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There’s been a delightful influx of little tykes in Broadway musicals. Both Annie and Matilda get their oomph from children. These kids are highly professional. They don’t elicit sighs of “Awww, isn’t she cute” but a wholly more substantial kind of admiration.
Lilla Crawford, now 12, stars in Annie, carrying a load of acting, singing, and dancing that could make your jaw drop. Her spunky, take-charge character carries the show. Her younger cohorts sing their hearts out while performing Andy Blankenbuehler’s ingenious choreography. Each one is an individual, knowing exactly why she’s in that madhouse of an orphanage.
In Matilda, four 9- to 10-year-old girls alternate as the leading ladies. I saw Oona Laurence and can’t imagine anyone else being that good. You could really believe that she spent her life acquiring knowledge from books and defying her elders. When she stood with hands on hips, her defiance defined the whole musical. When she sang (in a perfect British accent), you understood her passions and plans. And when she danced Peter Darling’s fast, gestural choreography, it was with utmost precision—which is also true of the children who play her schoolmates, all between the ages of 9 and 13.
The Broadway cast of Matilda The Musical. Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy Matilda.
In both musicals it’s the children who have the opening number. They get us on their side right away, and we’re rooting for them the whole evening.
Oh, there is one more phenomenal child on Broadway (maybe two, but I only saw one cast). And that’s Raymond Luke, Jr., who plays the young Michael Jackson in Motown. If you closed your eyes, you could swear you’re hearing the real MJ’s spookily sweet voice.
One wonders what’s next for each of these kids. Usually in Broadway musicals, like The Lion King, as soon as the children start growing, they are replaced. But it seems to me that every single one of these kids has a bright future.