1:01pm PT by Scott Feinberg
Tonys: Meet the Pre-Teen Siblings Who Are the Talk of Broadway
Talented siblings are nothing new to Broadway. In the beginning, there were the Booths, the Barrymores and the Astaires. Later, along came the Redgraves and, in time, the Richardsons. And, more recently, the Keenan-Bolgers and the Fosters arrived in town.
But, according to all available records, there were never as many siblings simultaneously employed in major parts on the Great White Way as there were during the 2014-2015 season. Among them: Jake Gyllenhaal (Constellations) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Real Thing); Adam Jacobs (Aladdin) and Arielle Jacobs (Wicked); Robert Fairchild (An American in Paris) and Megan Fairchild (On the Town); Michael Cerveris (Fun Home) and Marisa Cerveris (The Phantom of the Opera); and Jessie Mueller (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) and Abby Mueller (Kinky Boots).
Another pair of siblings currently hitting the boards eight times a week is not nearly as well known as those listed above, but, in some respects, is more interesting than any of them — because the brother and sister who comprise it are not yet even teenagers.
Their names are Jake Lucas and Sydney Lucas. They are 12 and 11, respectively. He's playing Louis, Anna's son, in The King and I, and she's playing the youngest of three versions of the main protagonist Alison in Fun Home. Last Tuesday was a big day for them. Both of their shows received Tony nominations — King for best revival of a musical, Fun for best musical — and Sydney became one of the youngest people ever to be nominated. (On June 7, she could become the youngest female ever to win a Tony other than Daisy Eagan, who when she won for The Secret Garden in 1991, was 121 days fewer into her eleventh year than Sydney will be on Tony night.)
Last Friday night, a couple of hours before their curtains, I met up for dinner with Jake and Sydney — and their parents, Ed and Karri — in a booth at one of their favorite spots in the theater district, 5 Napkin Burger. Over greasy cheeseburgers, onion rings, sweet potato fries and milkshakes, we chatted about their unusual lives and careers.
"My main strength is acting, his [Jake's] main strength is singing, our [18-year-old] brother's main strength is instruments and writing songs and stuff — but we're all triple-threats," explains Sydney, her innocent invocation of the industry term sending her parents into a fit of laughs. Ed and Karri, who have been married for 23 years, know a thing or two about show business. "Ed and I met singing and dancing at Six Flags in St. Louis," says Karri. "Half a lifetime ago," adds Ed. "Six hundred shows a season, baby!"
One can never know what goes on behind another family's closed doors, but it didn't take long for me to conclude that Ed and Karri are not your stereotypical "stage parents," who push their kids into show business hoping to vicariously experience fame and fortune of the sort that may have eluded them years ago. Quite the contrary. Their kids, who are unfailingly soft-spoken and polite, make it clear they have always asked for this sort of a life and are grateful to their parents for making considerable personal sacrifices in order to give it to them.
Sydney caught the acting bug first. When her older brother was rehearsing a show at a local community theater, she — and Jake — would observe with great interest, and they were ultimately given small parts in the production. Back home, while watching TV, she would perk up whenever she saw commercials featuring other children. And then, after being taken to see Annie on tour, and seeing other kids performing in a professional show in front of a large audience, she was hooked.
"I begged since I was four," she recalls. "She got very persistent," acknowledges Karri. As Sydney remembers, "I would always say, 'Mom, I want to be in that commercial! I want to be on Broadway!' So she did some research and we all auditioned for a manager — all three of us — and we've been going ever since!"
While "Sydney's always been an extrovert," Karri says, "Jake's always been an introvert." The one place where Jake would come out of his shell was at church, where he enjoyed singing with his family, and where his mother first realized that he had an unusual vocal range. "He would just start singing a song and going higher and higher and higher," she says. "So we got him initially into the New York Boys Choir."
The group, which existed for only a short time, was led by Steve Fisher, a nurturing man who Jake — like the rest of his family — came not only to trust, but to love. Before long, Karri says, "Steve would say [to the choir members], 'Alright, who wants to sing the solo?' And his [Jake's] arm would shoot up. And he became the main soloist at eight." It wasn't long before Jake, with his boy soprano sound, attracted wider notice — and became a part of the children's chorus at the Metropolitan Opera. "We always knew he was a great singer," says Sydney, and soon Jake was being offered acting opportunities, too.
As the kids' talents began to be recognized, their lives got busier and busier. "After school we could have, easy, three, maybe four, auditions ― depending on where they were ― every day," remembers Karri. "That was a lot." A family decision was made for them to be homeschooled, which enabled them to have more flexible schedules. (Jake was homeschooled from the age of nine to 11, Sydney from eight to 10; they are now back in classrooms.) But, while Ed and Karri wanted to provide their kids with the tools to realize their dreams, they also emphasized that it is the doing that matters, not whether or not one gets the part.
As Ed puts it, "You work hard to learn your lines, you do the audition — maybe you do two or three takes if it's an on-tape thing or, if you're in the room with somebody ― you go and you leave it all in the room. We celebrate that, that you left it all in the room and you had a great time. And then it's on to the next thing." Karri adds, "We call it 'planting a seed.' You plant a seed and if it grows, it grows; and if it doesn't, it doesn't. All you can do is plant a seed."
That approach seems to have worked wonders, as the kids not only remained happy and well-adjusted, but quickly landed big breaks. "Mine was Newsies," says Jake, who was 10 when, following the usual audition process, he became the first replacement in the role of Les, the youngest paperboy, in the hit Broadway musical. He gave his first performance on Sept. 10, 2012, following three weeks of rehearsals.
The fact that Jake was the first of the Lucas kids to make it to the Great White Way was a very big deal, not least of all for Sydney. "She had been wanting to be on Broadway for such a long time," he says, "and when I got the first Broadway show she was like, [feigning shock and outrage] 'What?!'" They all break out in laughter at the memory. But Sydney hastens to add that she quickly got on board: "I watched Newsies 23 times — not joking," she says. "It never got old. I was very, very proud of him."
(It's striking how well Jake and Sydney get along with each other. "It definitely helps that we're not competing for roles because we're boy and girl," notes Sydney. "But we don't like it when both of us are angry, and we always try to cheer each other up when we're sad. And when we're having a fight, we don't like it, so we're just like, 'I'm sorry!' We don't like it when we fight. We're best friends." Jakes leans over and the two hug.)
Sydney's big break, of course, was Fun Home — first Off-Broadway, now on, at the Circle in the Square. "That started when I was nine — just turned nine," she says. The production, a musical inspired by the life story of graphic artist Alison Bechdel that features a book by Lisa Kron and a score by Kron and Jeanine Tesori, calls for three different actresses to portray Bechdel at various points in her life.
Sydney landed the part of "small Alison," which comes with big responsibilities, including the first lines of the show and several solo numbers. She greatly impressed critics in more than 100 performances at the Public Theater between 2013 and 2014 — ultimately becoming the youngest person ever to win an Obie, one of the highest honors for Off-Broadway work, at just 10 — and she subsequently made the jump with it to Broadway, where she has continued to receive widespread acclaim.
But it almost didn't happen.
Sydney first heard about Fun Home when her agent forwarded the family some information about the show, which was seeking actors for a lab. (A lab is "one step past a workshop," Ed explains, and is an early testing ground to determine whether or not a show can make it in the real world.) Sydney and her parents were immediately drawn to the project.
"I remember we did some research about Alison," Sydney says. "We read through the book on a Kindle." (Karri adds, in reference to its more risque material — Bechdel's sexual awakening as a lesbian and her father's suicide — "I was like, 'You can't see this page!'") "I felt like I related to the character Alison — well, she's a real person," she says. "I have two brothers, and they made me tough. And I love to draw and I like to write. It sounded like a good idea to me!"
Sydney landed the part for the Fun Home lab in Sept. 2012, but, even while rehearsing it, she continued to consider other projects, having previously been a part of two or three workshops that did not develop into anything bigger. One project that she was particularly excited to learn about was Matilda: The Musical because it was a sure-thing for Broadway, having been slated for a 2013 bow, and it required the casting of several young girls to rotate through the title role.
She auditioned and made it all the way to the final round. "There were like 11 callbacks," she recalls. "It was a very long process." In the end, she ran into a wall with the casting directors: "Basically," she explains, "in the beginning [of Matilda], she [Matilda] is not supposed to be able to take care of herself — and I was [clearly] able to take care of myself. And I was half an inch too tall. I didn't get it. And I was devastated." Broadway, at least for the time being, had escaped her grasp.
"That's the one thing about this business," says Karri. "When they do auditions, they do it and we don't look back, we just keep going. But Broadway auditions? When you put that many hours of work into something, those are the ones that are hard to let go." "But," Sydney interjects, "my mom's always had a saying: 'Things happen for a reason.' I'd always be like, 'You always say that!' But you know what? Now I know what that saying means." Indeed, had Sydney landed Matilda, she would have missed out on being a part of Fun Home. "It really happened for a reason." The Off-Broadway production's previews began on Sept. 30, 2013, and it officially opened on Oct. 22.
Jake, meanwhile, gave his final performance in Newsies on March 10, 2013. Less than two weeks later, he was announced as part of the cast of Playwrights Horizons' Off-Broadway production of Far from Heaven, a new musical — inspired by the 2002 film of the same title — starring one of Broadway's biggest musical superstars, Kelli O'Hara, who would be playing his mother. Previews began on May 8 and the show, which sold out its entire engagement, ran from June 2 through July 7. Subsequently, Jake landed and played the starring role in a brief regional tour of A Christmas Story, and then spent much of the first half of 2014 auditioning for other projects.
There were two that particularly excited him: NBC was casting Peter Pan Live!, a follow-up to The Sound of Music Live!, which it televised live — generating big ratings — a year earlier; and The King and I, the much beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, which was being revived on Broadway for the fourth time.
In New York, he auditioned to play John Darling, the brother of Wendy, in Peter Pan. And, while on summer vacation with his family in Georgia — where both he and Sydney were born and much of their extended family remains — he watched the 1956 film version of The King and I and then auditioned via tape to play Louis, the son of Anna, in the show. Did he feel good about what he sent in? He did, he says: "If my mom [who taped his audition] is happy, then I'm happy." (Karri howls with laughter at his diplomatic response.)
Once back in New York, he had callbacks for both projects — and then on Sept. 3 he had a day for the ages. That morning, he went in for a final callback for Peter Pan. That afternoon, he was asked to return to the office where that had taken place, at which point he was surprised — on camera — by Alison Williams, the show's star, notifying him that he had been cast. As he and Karri were leaving the office, already on a high, they got a call from his manager notifying them that Jake had also booked The King and I. What was a special day to begin with — "It was also my mom's birthday," he points out — had become a major turning point in his life. Peter Pan Live! aired on Dec. 4, and rehearsals for The King and I began at the end of January. He hasn't stopped since.
(It should be noted that O'Hara — yes, the same one from Far from Heaven — played Jake's mother in Peter Pan and plays it eight times a week in King and I. "She's been saying, 'I really need to put that in my contract,'" Jake recounts with a laugh. "There is definitely a resemblance between us," he grants, "and her son Owen kind of acts like me." Of the opportunity to work, on three occasions by the age of 12, with a six-time Tony nominee who is widely regarded as Broadway royalty, he says he often has to pinch himself. "She's amazing. She's just extremely nice and an amazing actress.")
What's it like for a parent to have two children acting in different Broadway shows at the same time? It's certainly exciting and a great source of pride, Ed and Karri emphasize, but also very demanding. "I don't know that we have 'average days,'" says Karri. The closest to them are weekdays other than Monday, when neither of the kids' shows offer performances, and Wednesday, when both kids have matinee shows before their night-time performances. On Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, both kids go to school, come home and do their homework, take a nap, eat a healthy dinner and take B vitamins to help with their energy levels. They then get dropped off, by one parent or the other, at their respective theaters. Sydney needs to be at hers by 7:10, while Jake's call time is 7:15. Both shows start at 8. Sydney's has no intermission and runs for 105 minutes, while Jake's runs for 175 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
"Usually, Ed will pick up Sydney because she has a short show, and then go and wait for Jake," Karri explains, "and at 11:15 they'll get in the car." Not infrequently, the Lucases also end up wrangling some of Jake's King and I "wranglers," the adults employed by Broadway shows that feature child actors to make sure that the kids hit their cues during each performance and get picked up afterwards. (The King and I has three because of the unusual number of children in its company; Fun Home has one.) "Two of the wranglers usually get in and we drop one of them off in the city about 10 blocks away, and then the other lives near us," Karri adds.
"And that's a one-show day," says Ed. "They've got two two-show days [Wednesday and Saturday]. And then sometimes there's a put-in rehearsal (a special rehearsal for the benefit of one or some of the understudies so that they're ready to go on if needed)."
"They don't get a day off," Sydney says of her parents. "I just want to point out: Saturday and Sunday, my dad doesn't go to work, and our day off is Monday and he goes to work then, so he literally does not get a day off. During his days off, he goes with us. And during our day off, he goes to work. And my mom? Oh my God!" Among many other things, Karri manages the kids' Twitter accounts (you can follow them @JakeLucasNYC and @SydneyLucasNYC) and one of her own (@BwayKids) — her profile reads, "Just a Mom doing my best to keep up with my talented theatre kids" — which offer people a behind-the-scenes look at their lives. "They're super parents," Sydney says emphatically.
Lest you think the kids are so busy that they have no time for fun, Jake says he and Sydney always find time to play games on their phones before shows and during intermissions. "Zig Zag is one of my favorites," he says. I have an ongoing competition with the lead [King and I] wrangler, Lauren." Sydney chimes in, "Oh, my gosh — we played a trick on her! We looked up glitches for that game and we got so far. We showed her and she was like, 'No!!!' Then we confessed."
For them, "work" still is fun, and they relish every minute of it. Sydney has a case-in-point: "Last year, with the Off-Broadway version [of Fun Home], before the show I ate at a fast food restaurant and then the whole show I was feeling very weird and nauseous. About halfway through the show, when the turntable is around and I'm still on stage but no one can see me, I hear my name and I look over and there's the assistant stage manager calling me off stage, so I slowly walk off stage during the Mark and Bruce car ride scene. And she gave me an ice pack and she's like, 'Are you okay?!' I'm like, 'Yes.' So she walked me over to the other side — and I threw up in a trash can."
Sydney continues, "This was before 'Ring of Keys' [her big solo], and the next thing was 'Raincoat of Love' [a full company number], and I was supposed to go on in like 20 seconds — and my understudy was nowhere to be found. They were on their headsets like, 'No, she threw up!' And I'm like, 'No, I feel so much better! Please, please!' So I start to run on stage and they're like, 'Here, take a drink of water!' So I took a drink of water and ran on stage right before my cue — I slid in front of the TV — and I finished the show." She wouldn't have had it any other way. "Sometimes it can be a little crazy, but it's always fun." (After all, where else would she get to dance on a coffin, her favorite part of the show?)
Less than two weeks ago, on the morning of April 28, the Lucases' hard work and commitment was rewarded. With a camcorder rolling, they all tuned in to the Tonys nomination announcement on TV. ("The publicist was supposed to be calling right after they knew, but I wanted a true reaction," says Karri.)
They cheered as Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker revealed that the kids' shows had scored major noms — among them Fun Home for best musical and The King and I for best revival of a musical — and then panicked when they realized that the announcement of several other categories — including best featured actress in a musical, the one in which Sydney was thought to stand a shot — were not being televised. They rushed to a computer to watch a replay of the announcement, and began screaming in joy upon hearing Sydney's name — as well as those of the two other actresses who play Alisons, Beth Malone and Emily Skeggs. ("My phone was blowing up," Sydney says with a laugh — she was still getting alerts every time something she tweeted was re-tweeted, and a tweet featuring a photo of her doing a celebratory handstand was re-tweeted more than 100 times.)
"I feel like we've been really lucky," Karri says, and it's hard to disagree. Her kids seem to have "made it," or are, at least, making it. (On top of their theater world successes, Sydney has twice played a young version of Kristen Wiig in films, Girl Most Likely and The Skeleton Twins, and Sydney and Jake can be seen in the new Peter Bogdanovich film She's Funny That Way, which stars Jennifer Aniston.) And, at this point, they must be the envy of the many other child actors who are trying their luck on Broadway, amongst whom are a number of other promising siblings — among them the Poons (who are a part of the King and I company), the Sinks and the Shucks.
The only notable downside to the Lucases' success: the kids rarely get to see each other in action. "I went to see his opening preview night," Sydney says, pointing out that the show was still in tech. Jake caught her show during previews, as well, when it offered Sunday night performances. ("It was a lot different than the Public Theater version," he remarks. "I saw that one, too.") By all indications, their schedules won't be opening up anytime soon: Lincoln Center Theater has extended the King and I run indefinitely, while Fun Home is also open-ended and will run for as long as ticket sales will sustain it.
But, in all likelihood, they'll each catch the other performing one number within the next month — at the Tonys.