GYPSIES OF THE MONTH: A Few Little Whos from 'The Grinch'
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical is spending its first holiday season in New York, but some of its youngest cast members are already veterans of yule-themed entertainments. Sky Jarrett, 13, played Tiny Tim to F. Murray Abraham's Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden in 2002. Jahaan Amin, 11, has danced in The Nutcracker with the Washington Ballet and the Moscow Ballet. Molly J. Ryan, 11, has on three different occasions played Tootie—to whom older sister Esther sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"—in Meet Me in St. Louis.
All three are making their Broadway debuts in The Grinch. Along with castmate Daniel Manche, who's appearing in his third Broadway show, they sat down with BWW for a group interview between performances one day earlier this month. Daniel, Molly, Jahaan and Sky are Little Whos in the "white cast" of The Grinch, which has as many as 12 performances a week. On days with four shows, the white and red casts each perform twice. Every other Sunday, one cast does all three shows. No wonder the kids say keeping up their energy on stage can be the hardest part of the job.
"We put so much energy into every number and we have to bounce back and do it again," says Sky. "The first show [of the day] is really exciting, and then the next show, the next show, it's not as exciting. But you can't show that. You want to make it like it's the first time doing it, because the audience has probably never seen the show before."
"Every performance you have to keep on pouring out that energy," adds Daniel, noting that their second number, "Whatchama Who," takes a lot out of them. "We have to basically use all of our energy on that…," he starts to explain, as Jahaan jumps in to agree: "Yeah, we do! For like 30 seconds, I'm like [panting]."
For Jahaan, though, the most difficult thing about her current work is being away from her family in Baltimore—"my dog and my dad and my grandparents" and most of all, her 14-year-old brother. "My brother and I are like best friends," she says. Jahaan and her mother are renting an apartment near the theater district during The Grinch's run. Molly is also from out-of-town, but her whole family has moved from St. Louis to New Jersey while she's in the show.
Sky (right) has always lived in the New York area, in Westchester County, while Daniel moved here from Alabama a few years ago when he was cast as a replacement for young Guido in the Broadway revival of Nine. Both he and Sky are able to go to their schools at least three days a week and in the morning when their first show of the day is in the afternoon. Molly is homeschooled on days when there are no shows, but she and all the children receive tutoring at the theater on performance days. Jahaan goes to the theater for tutoring every day, since she's away from her regular school in Baltimore.
Each child traveled a different route to Who-ville. Jahaan's background is mostly in dance. Other than one school production last year, she hadn't done any theater before The Grinch, but has danced in recitals and competitions. She's performed at three Baltimore venues—Lyric Opera House, Hippodrome and Mechanic Theater—with the Washington Ballet and the Moscow Ballet, which employs local talent for the children's roles in each U.S. city on its Great Russian Nutcracker tour. But Jahaan actually considers herself more of a hip-hop dancer and says working with the B. Funk Dance Company (in the Baltimore area) has shaped her a lot as a dancer. And while the other children didn't have a definitive response when asked which famous performer inspires them, Jahaan immediately replied: "Michael Jackson all the way! And Janet Jackson."
For Molly (left), performing began with piano lessons. The teacher, upon discovering that she also sang, started giving her voice lessons too and set up auditions at community theater and St. Louis' Muny regional theater. For four years Molly has belonged to Muny Kids, which entertains around the St. Louis area, and she's appeared in Muny productions of Annie, Gypsy, Show Boat, Annie Get Your Gun and The Wizard of Oz—where the Wicked Witch of the West was played by Jan "Grandma Who" Neuberger. For six months last year, Molly played Duffy on the Annie tour, alongside her younger sister Lindsay as Molly.
Sky has worked in ballet and opera as well as theater. He's danced in Le Corsaire, Petrushka and Manon with the American Ballet Theatre and sung in the children's chorus of Lohengrin and Parsifal at the Metropolitan Opera. In the summer of 2003 Sky played Freddy on the Will Rogers Follies tour starring country singer Larry Gatlin. He's also been in the off-Broadway children's show The People Garden and even done Dr. Seuss on stage before—playing JoJo in Seussical at the Helen Hayes Theatre in Nyack, N.Y.
Daniel, who turns 14 next month, got involved in theater after his mother sent him to acting camp due to his propensity for breaking out in song in Wal-Mart and other public places. He came to The Grinch straight from playing Young Tarzan in Tarzan, a role he's now too big for. "It was one of the most physical shows I've worked on," he says. "I liked doing the backflips and all those crazy things that they taught me, even martial arts," though his loincloth costume with harness underneath was not particularly comfortable.
Both Sky and Daniel (right) have recurring roles on the CBS soap opera As the World Turns. Sky portrays Roy, the best friend of abductee Daniel (played by Kevin Csolak, another Little Who), and Daniel is J.J., the adopted son of Detective Jack Snyder (Michael Park). On the day of our interview, Daniel said he'd just filmed a scene where he beats up his on-screen brother—this after his adoptive mother went to jail and his biological parents had both been killed (separately). Daniel's dealt with calamity-stricken characters in his previous screen roles, he points out. He was stabbed in the back and paralyzed on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, thrown off a cliff on Guiding Light and beaten by his dad in All My Children. And he recently filmed the upcoming movie The Girl Next Door, based on a real-life horrific case of child abuse and murder.
Daniel has a few ideas in mind for his future. "I want to be a director in Hollywood, or just be an actor, or do art, or make scene design, or be an architect, or graphic design," he says, and the other children start to praise the artwork they've seen him craft backstage—Grinch fingers and a mini Mount Crumpit, for instance. Sky's adult career ambitions, meanwhile, go outside show business. "I want to be a doctor or a teacher or write for the New York Times—my three dream jobs," he says. Molly, however, states: "I want to keep up my career as an actress. I do gymnastics and tumbling, and I want to keep that up too." Jahaan concurs. "What I'm doing right now is what I love, and I want to keep doing it," she says. "If I have to sacrifice to help my career, I'm going to do that. I just love it so much."
She wouldn't mind returning to The Grinch as an adult. She's so enamored of Patrick Page's performance in the title role, she finds herself reciting his lines at home. "If I was, like, eight feet taller and a man, I would totally want to be the Grinch after seeing him play it," says Jahaan. "I almost know his whole part."
The other kids are also impressed with Page's grinchiness. "He puts so much into this show," Molly says. "Even when we're practicing and I would say hi to him or something, he would stay in character." The children squeal with laughter remembering the first time Page came to rehearsal in costume. They hadn't been warned ahead of time. "We were amazed. We were screaming and touching him," says Sky. "He opened the doors and just walked into rehearsal, and then the pianist started playing his theme."
The children have their own kooky getups to wear on stage. Molly describes her Who hair as "Phyllis Diller style, and then they put red and yellow streaks in it," while Daniel says, "Mine reminds me of Edward Scissorhands…shooting up in different directions, Gothically." Jahaan (left) wears a wig of red and black curls, and Sky also sports a hairpiece. As for the costumes that are padded to give performers funny Who shapes: "They're basically fat suits," says Daniel. "Then we have different layers we put on top. I have like five layers, and it's burning. It's like I'm in a sauna, and the lights make it even hotter." Molly adds, "Some of us have two or three pairs of tights on." "The basic structure is like rings around your entire body," Sky explains, "and the boys have these tails at the end." The padded part of the costume is called a pod. "You can stick your hand into the pod and it will be like 100 degrees in there," says Sky. "You could cook something in the pod!"
Of course, they're mostly having fun in Who-ville. They've seen such stars as Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kelly Ripa and Paige Davis (Patrick Page's wife) at the theater and have performed on the Today show and at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. In addition, most of them understudy a featured Who role: Molly covers Cindy Lou, and Daniel, Boo. Jahaan has already played Betty Who at a few performances. "Before I went on as her, I was kind of nervous," she says. "I just knew a half hour before the show started. After I got the hang of it, it was a lot better. It's a lot of fun."
These middle schoolers have already had professional experiences that grown-ups might envy. Asked about career highlights so far, Sky recalls the Will Rogers tour, its "really, really nice hotels," the theater in Atlanta with stars in the ceiling (it was the Fox) and his "favorite place of all"—Memphis. "Who can't love Beale Street?" he says. "The culture and the music and the lifestyle…the Southern food is so good."
Molly's favorite has been the Annie tour, which took her to 16 cities. "It wasn't the same old Annie," she explains. "The creators made it a new production, changed some of the lines, made new songs." She also got to meet Disney Channel stars Dylan and Cole Sprouse and Ashley Tisdale (from The Suite Life of Zack & Cody) and Raven when Annie was running in L.A.
Daniel, who played opposite both Antonio Banderas and John Stamos in Nine, was wowed by working with Tarzan songwriter Phil Collins: "He'd come up with a song, and like five minutes later he'd completely have, like, every single instrument composed." Among Jahaan's best memories are some of her roles in The Nutcracker. As a Polichinelle, she rode a real carousel within the hoop of Mother Ginger's skirt. She also liked being a toy soldier "because we got to have little plastic guns, and then they had really big rats that were scary, and they had huge heads, and they were like seven feet and they had to pick us up and we had to pretend to fight them."
When the Grinch run ends Jan. 7, the youngsters can start reminiscing about taking part in a classic story everyone knows from page and screen. "The Grinch was my favorite book," Sky notes. "I liked the cartoon but it kind of scared me when I was little," Molly admits. "I like the Jim Carrey version; I've always been a fan of him, and the little girl who played Cindy Lou Who [Taylor Momsen], she's from my hometown. I know her from my dance studio." Daniel thinks the live-action Carrey movie "didn't really explain the point," and the stage show is more faithful to Dr. Seuss' message. Jahaan didn't see the animated TV special until she was in the play. "I don't think it's as complicated [as the stage show], because they don't have all the different things. It doesn't have as much music," she says. And we all know how important that Christmas singing is to every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small…
Top photo: Four Little Whos from the white cast in their red jackets (from left) Sky Jarrett, Daniel Manche, Molly J. Ryan, Jahaan Amin.