How did you start dancing?
I started dancing when I was 3. My sister, who is three years older than me, was a dancer first. My parents tried getting my brother to start dancing, but he didn’t like it. My mom took my sister to dance class, and I would tag along. She’d be in class, and we’d wait outside in the holding area. I got very interested in what was going on behind the door, so I was on my stomach looking underneath the crack of the door to see what she was doing. And then my parents thought there was something going on—that maybe I might have caught some sort of a dance bug.
What does your sister do now?
My sister teaches dance. She’s a dancer still. Pretty much everyone in my family is somewhat staying with the arts, except for my mom. She’s the only sane one [laughs]. They are all teachers. My sister teaches dance and is also in education as well. My brother is a music teacher / musician. My dad was an actor at one point and teaches. My mom is in administration. So they’re all educators, and I am the jester.
How did you grow your passion into a career?
Before I got into the theatre world, I did dance competitions. My sister and I competed on a competitive dance team in New Jersey for a long time. That was my first foray into performance, being on stage, and being in front of an audience consistently. When I was maybe 5 or 6, I started taking voice lessons. My parents thought it would be a good idea. Around 7 or 8, I started going on any small auditions for commercials here and there. There were a lot of auditions that happened quite frequently. I went in for Chuck-E-Cheese commercials, voiceovers, etc. It was just to keep me busy and interested and put my face out there.
I saw that you were on for Young Peter in The Boy from Oz on Broadway.
Yeah, I was a vacation swing. I came in two times throughout the run. That was my Broadway debut. I was in 5th grade. They were kind enough to give me a show to perform. I had 40 family members come to the show. It was just an exhilarating experience. I’ll never forget. One thing that stands out was the curtain call. I took my bow before the company bow, and then the curtain came down. Hugh Jackman, who was starring in the show, gave a gesture to bring the curtain back up. He pulled me aside, brought me front and center for another bow. It was such a rush. I just remember feeling everything going on. The audience response was through the roof because I had 40 screaming family members from the LeProtto group. It was an overwhelming amount of love, and I just couldn’t believe it. So surreal.
What are you up to now?
I am in Cats. It’s quite a ride. The idea of the show is not to take away the DNA of the show but to modernize what was there and keep what was so special there. That’s why we’re very lucky to have Andy Blankenbuehler restaging and choreographing a lot of the show. He’s such a wonderful person to give great analysis on the characters and give them new life for a new audience.
I grew up with the VHS of Cats. I watched it when I was a kid. A lot of people have seen the original show, but there’s also a lot of people in my generation that have never seen Cats. In a way, it’s going to be an introduction to the show that they have heard about. Now they can really experience it firsthand. They get to experience it live in front of them. To be a part of that history—the first revival—is kind of crazy. The creative team is amazing. We’re all committed to it and the work is definitely paying off.
When does it open?
We start previews July 14 and open July 31. Get your tickets now [laughs]!
What are your aspirations?
I love all the different forms and elements that I have discovered in this business. I do a lot of research and video surfing through all sorts of mediums (television, interviews, theater, sports, etc.) Some favorite footage that I've found is from artists such as Twyla Tharp, Martin Short, Jerry Lewis, Quincy Jones, Leonard Bernstein, Carol Burnett, Gene Kelly, Michael Bennett and Inside the Actors Studio, which is my favorite show. I've always enjoyed this way of exploring different forms and crafts from many perspectives and walks of life. I watch a lot of clips of a lot of biographies and research history about how these people came about doing what they did and how it stood the test of time. That has a lot of effect on what I do. It subconsciously comes into my head, and I make sure to apply it to what I do.
But I want to find my own sense of rhythm and style. I would like to apply that to choreographing or directing. I’ve always loved how someone like Tommy Tune directed and choreographed and starred in a show. He’s really someone who’s had a hand in everything and putting it into one thing. That’s what I really hope and aspire to do.
I’ve always wondered about what it’s like to be a Broadway kid and how they handle the time in between shows—when the spotlight is no longer there.
After The Boy from Oz, about two years later I did How the Grinch Stole Christmas on Broadway for two seasons. My 8th grade and my freshman year. After that, I had a year off not doing any production contracts. In that time, I found it important to get involved in anything that I could. I was also dancing competitively, so I had a plateful of that. I participated and volunteered and did a lot of things at my high school like band, choir, drama club, fall plays, musicals, and holiday shows. I wasn’t doing it professionally, but it didn’t matter because I was trying to seize any performance opportunities. I wanted to explore and understand myself more and more. I was trying to become of age and understand who I was, so it was a great place to expose myself to those things. Even if it was the littlest opportunity in the world, I took it. I also sang in church. I was a cantor for a few years, which is another opportunity for me to practice my vocals. Any kind of form, wherever it is, it was about taking that opportunity and using it and taking advantage of it. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to be consistent. Thankfully, I was busy in all those areas. That always kept my mind away from being bored or twiddling my thumbs.
Because of how this business is and how small we are as a community, it’s nice to have some distance. That’s what keeps it so special too. You want to keep that light special. You want to step away from it knowing that it’ll always be there. Everything happens for a reason, and you come back to it with more knowledge and wisdom than you did before. Any time that I step back into a professional setting, I feel like I have a little bit more understanding than I had at the last one.
What’s the toughest thing about being a dancer?
One obvious thing is maintenance and consistency for physical reasons. One of the other hardest things is not getting so caught up in anxiety, especially in auditions. When you make your own stakes, it doesn’t help anything. You have to adapt to the situation, the environment, and the atmosphere. It takes time. It doesn’t happen first-thing. You just grow into it. I’m still growing and learning, but because I had some experience as a kid, I learned that it does go away because you understand things more and know how the business works. It’s not personal. I took a lot of things personally when I was a kid. When you’re thin-skinned, it gets into you very easily. It’s about letting that come in one ear and out the other while knowing what you can take away constructively.
What was the toughest time you’ve had as a performer?
I am going to say coming of age. I pretty much did the entire run of Newsies. I was in the original Broadway cast from 2012. And then I left two months before it closed in 2014. I was 19 when I started and I was 21 when I left. Those are very crucial years. It’s leaving what was childhood and now being “legal.” At 19 I was very energetic and hungry—I am still hungry but with the sense of control. At 20, I was figuring things out. I was going to school. I still go to school part-time at PACE University for BFA in Musical Theatre. It wasn’t like high school where I had to graduate. I was going at my own pace, no pun intended, but it was also a lot of work. I was young and learning things, and once I turned 21, I found a way of living with positivity instead of being overwhelmed by everything.
How much time do you have left to graduate at PACE?
That’s a good question. I’ve been going for 4 years as a part-time student. There’s no deadline to say. The program wanted me to get the education that I needed in the right amount of time for me to graduate, which is understandable. But because of the unique way of the program where they encourage their students to go out and audition and book jobs, students can come back and pursue school when they return. The students are wise enough to come back and finish what they started and learn from their work. What’s great about going to school and performing at the same time is applying the things you’ve learned right away. I was applying it right away even if it was the smallest things in acting class or voice lessons.
It’s like you’re doing your homework at work.
Exactly. I think I lived the last four years going to school and working professionally in a practical way and in a way I can exercise the things I learned. It was so amazing and still is amazing. I am registering for a couple of classes this fall, and I am ready to go. They have been so understanding and patient with everything, and I really appreciate that. The professors I have are wonderful people. I am lucky to be in their program.
Number one advice?
I say this a lot. Do your research. You can take away something from fifty years ago and apply it to your performance now. It’s important to find yourself, but you can also find that through other people who have put themselves out there. It doesn’t mean you have to follow exactly what they did. Sometimes you see how someone has done something and you can do things the opposite way. I feel like a lot of things I have learned subconsciously have been in my performance.
For people who are in the business, it’s about cherishing your moments. Once you find yourself in that position, you have to breathe it in. Enjoy it and take a look at the bigger picture. To do what we do is a blessing. We do what we love in this community. Acting, singing, dancing, behind-the-scenes, it’s about taking in those moments and feeling fulfilled. It’s not going to happen with just one production. It’s about taking and grabbing all the opportunities I can no matter how small they might be.
Last thing you want to share with the world?
I’ve done a lot of great things and certainly am enjoying doing what I am doing now as a performer and diving into characters. I’ve always enjoyed in some shape or form making a fool out of myself [laughs]. I put a little dose of that into everything. When my mom says, “You’re such a fool,” I know that I have done my job.