Broadway Babies, Singing Show Tunes for Seniors

By admin Dec4,2023

“Oh, baby, give me one more chance,” sang Corey J, a former Little Michael in the Broadway musical “MJ.” Dressed in a black rimmed hat and a black turtleneck, jacket and pants, he slipped through the explosion of joy that is the chord progression of the Jackson 5 song “I Want You Back.”

He had performed the song hundreds of times in the Broadway show, a biographical Michael Jackson jukebox musical, at the Neil Simon Theater. But on this particular afternoon, he was on a much smaller stage: an Upper East Side senior center, where about 50 residents seated in floral chairs clapped along to the beat.

It was the latest in a monthly series of Broadway-related events staged in the dining room of the senior living community, Inspir Carnegie Hill, by Evan Rossi, its senior director of resident experience, in partnership with the events company Broadway Plus. Though Inspir has hosted numerous events with Broadway actors — including Julie Benko (“Harmony,” “Funny Girl”), Charl Brown (“Motown: The Musical”) and the comedian Alex Edelman (“Just for Us”) — this was the first to feature children actors.

Last Thursday, Corey J, 12, was accompanied on the piano by Nate Patten, and performed alongside Aria Kane, 9, a recent Young Anna in the North American tour of “Frozen”; Benjamin Pajak, 12, who portrayed Winthrop Paroo in “The Music Man”; and Jillian Paige Platero, 12, one of two actresses playing Young Nala in “The Lion King.”

“I can’t explain the response,” Rossi, 26, who previously worked in the box office of Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theater, said in an interview. “The residents are more excited for this concert than anything we’ve ever publicly done in the last three years.”

The event kicked off with a group number — “Broadway Baby” from “Follies” — and then each performer sang a song from a show they had acted in (“Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” from “Frozen” for Kane, “I Want You Back” from “MJ” for Corey J, “Shadowland” from “The Lion King” for Platero, and a medley of “Gary, Indiana” from “The Music Man” and “Where Is Love?” from “Oliver!” for Pajak).

The children also answered questions from the cabaret performer Christopher Metzger-Timson, who emceed the event. Kane was asked about her favorite part of her “Lion King” costume (“the corset, because it’s beautiful architecture from South Africa”), Pajak swore that his “Music Man” co-star Hugh Jackman is really that nice in person and Corey J even demonstrated his Michael Jackson moonwalk.

After a half-hour of performances, they answered questions from residents, who were curious about how they started out in the business and their dream roles. (Kane said Elphaba in “Wicked” and Catherine Howard in “Six”; Corey J’s was the teenage Michael and adult Michael Jackson in “MJ” and Scar in “The Lion King”; Platero also picked Elphaba and Nala in “The Lion King”; and Pajak said Sweeney Todd.)

Each child then performed a second song — “Dead Mom” (from “Beetlejuice”) for Kane, “This Christmas” for Corey J, “Where Are You Christmas?” (“How the Grinch Stole Christmas”) for Platero, and “Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun” (“A Christmas Story”) for Pajak — and later took the stage together for a rendition of “When I Grow Up” from “Matilda.”

After the concert, they stuck around for a meet and greet with the residents, many of whom are Broadway aficionados. (Hill also organizes outings to Broadway and Off Broadway shows as well as operas, concerts and dance performances — recent favorites include “The Great Gatsby” at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. Next up: “Harmony.”)

Marilyn Snyder, 87, a retired Broadway actress who performed in Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” under the stage name Maggie Burke, said the concert brought back memories of the camaraderie of performing with other actors.

“It was such a joy just feeling their optimism and their hope and their buoyancy,” she said.

For Adele Hartman, 83, whose 23-year-old grandson is an aspiring actor, seeing the young performers’ talent on display was a reminder that success is possible in the industry.

“You have to audition and audition and audition until you get a part,” she said. “So it was good for me to see all these young kids who have been fortunate to get to star when they are so young.”

For the children, the concert was an opportunity to connect with an older generation through a shared passion.

“I was expecting to have the best show ever and that happened,” said Corey J, who added that his own grandmother saw him perform in “MJ.”

Kane, whose favorite part of the “Frozen” tour was “performing in front of 3,000 people,” said she hadn’t known so many residents would attend the show. “But more people makes it much better for me!” she said.

After taking a break from the stage to film “The Life of Chuck,” an adaptation of a Stephen King novella, Pajak said he was simply grateful to perform for a live audience.

“I definitely got a rush today being able to be here and sing for them,” he said.

By admin

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