Friday, May 14, 2010


Left, as Charlie, with David McDonald, Jenn Gambatese and Kevin Earley (photo: Diane Sobolewski)


My Mom and I are Facebook friends, and recently she got hold of a scanner and posted a bunch of photos from the days when she ran her acting company and school in my hometown of Beverly, MA. It was there that I really started my journey as an actor and received all my early formative training.
At the age of 13, I was taking acting, singing, mime, and all forms of dance, as well as playing roles in children's theatre and in the adult productions whenever there was a part for a precocious kid! Seeing those photos of me as a child actor made me think of the three talented youngsters who are playing Annie Oakley's siblings in "Annie Get Your Gun," and I thought I would devote this week's blog to profiling the littlest "Goodspeeders."

I was bitten by the acting bug very early, and my childhood was full of creativity and grand dreams of playing on Broadway. The first Broadway show I ever saw was "Annie" (which, as you may know, began its life here at Goodspeed), and I was so elated to see kids my age on that stage singing and dancing in a glittering Broadway production. I idolized the show's star, Andrea McArdle, and played the original cast album until it was worn out. As far as I was concerned, my life's path was set--I would be an actor, and one day star in a Broadway show myself. I see the same passion and starry eyed enthusiasm in our three talented junior cast members, Marissa Smoker, Joy Rachel Del Valle, and Griffin Birney, who play Nellie, Jessie, and Little Jake, respectively.

Marissa Smoker, Joy Rachel Del Valle, Griffin Birney with Jenn Gambatese (photo: Diane Sobolewski)

Marissa, who is our resident firecracker--a real ball of energy-- started her theatrical career in community theatre alongside her Mom, who is a lover of show biz and has been coming to Goodspeed shows since she was a kid. In fact, Marissa's stage debut was at the age of one in her Mom's arms in a production of "Dearly Departed." When one of her young friends was cast in the Broadway production of "Mary Poppins," Marissa, 12, begged her parents to get her a New York agent. She has been auditioning in New York for a couple of years, and taking dance, acting and voice lessons. She recently played Young Dorothy in a feature film, "Witches of Oz," with Sean Astin and Christopher Lloyd. Ultimately, Marissa wants to attend FIT and become a fashion designer. No doubt her spunk and bubbly personality will take her far, wherever her creative aspirations lead her.

Joy, who, at 15, is really more a young lady than a kid, is extraordinarily talented and mature for her age. She has a quiet sweetness about her and has truly been like a big sister to her younger cast mates. She possesses a strong and beautiful singing voice and speaks passionately and articulately about her love of theatre and her ambition to get good training at a reputable college theatre program and pursue a career in musical theatre. She has already performed at several professional regional theatres in this area, including the highly respected Hartford Stage. Citing "Glee" star Lea Michele as one of her idols, Joy is well on her way to becoming a lovely singer/actress.

Griffin, a diminutive and serious little actor, who one day hopes to be a lawyer (smart kid!), is incredibly bright and inquisitive. He recently underwent intense training in dance as part of a 'camp' that develops young performers to potentially take on roles in the musical juggernaut, "Billy Elliot," which features exceptionally gifted kids and has multiple companies around the US and abroad. As of this writing, Griffin has been cast in the national tour of the show! What an amazing adventure awaits this lucky ten year old. Griffin reminds me so much of myself at that age--clever, precocious, talented, and full of personality.

My Mom always said I was "born in a trunk," a reference to my being brought up in a theatre family, and I would say that it is definitely in my blood. I was so lucky to have been brought up by two such talented theatre artists as my parents. The same can be said of our littlest Goodspeeder, Jenn Gambatese's enchanting daughter, Josephine, who turned one year old this week.
Jenn threw an adorable birthday party in the theatre's green room between shows on Wednesday to celebrate the occasion. JoJo is a gorgeous little creature, who seemed fascinated by all the attention. Who knows? She may follow in her Mom's talented footsteps someday. I guess the thing all theatrical kids have in common are the unsung heroes: the parents. They recognize the budding talent, they encourage those grand dreams, and they make all the sacrifices: paying for dance lessons, driving to auditions, drying tears when the role goes to someone else, leading the standing ovations on those happy opening nights.
I believe that it's important for kids to be well rounded, even if they find professional success as young actors. The best 'stage moms and dads' know this and find ways to give their talented youngsters a grounded, normal childhood. We should never forget that much of the early inspiration and nurturing that creative kids receive is in public school drama and music programs. We should do all we can to help preserve these programs, which are ever on the verge of extinction, and always the first to go when budgets are being cut. Those school plays and recitals could be the training ground for the fine performing artists of tomorrow. I am crazy about our little stars in "Annie Get Your Gun" and look forward to watching them grow and succeed.

1 comment:

  1. Great article! Those kids are so lucky to get such positive support and encouragement. But of course that's why you wrote it!