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New Canaan child actor dazzles on Broadway

Published 11:44 am, Thursday, April 4, 2013

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  • Ashton Woerz on the set of the PBS pilot "Odd Squad." Nine year old Ashton is gearing up for the Broadway revival opening of "Pippin." Photo: Tyler Woods
    Ashton Woerz on the set of the PBS pilot "Odd Squad." Nine year old Ashton is gearing up for the Broadway revival opening of "Pippin." Photo: Tyler Woods

 

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His normal day starts with breakfast at around 10 a.m. before he arrives at school after missing first period.

When the final bell rings, he and his mother leave for New York City, grab a quick sandwich, make his call time for the show, and he takes the stage. After the final curtain call, the pair drives home through the night back to Connecticut.

New Canaan's Ashton Woerz debuted on Broadway in "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" when he was 7. He's appeared on "Saturday Night Live," toured the country with the musical "Radio City Christmas Spectacular," and is preparing for the Broadway revival of the hugely successful musical, "Pippin," where he'll be playing the role of Theo.

Ashton said he's looking forward to the opening of the play and also to turning 10.

The fourth-grader at West Elementary School is precocious and sociable in person. In performing he said he has found something he really loves doing.

"I like to be on stage and acting because it expresses my feelings," he said. "I've never been one for sports, so it gave me something to do after school, something that I'm interested in and can connect to."

"When I first met Ashton, he was 7 going on 17," Badeine Magaziner, Ashton's midtown Manhattan-based voice coach said. "He's extremely mature. He's an extremely hard worker. He just gets it. You tell him something and he really works hard to achieve it, and that's special for a young kid."

Magaziner has worked with many of the kids in "Billy Elliott" and "Mary Poppins" and with Lilla Crawford, the star of "Annie."

Opportunities have come quickly for Ashton, who only began acting three years ago, in New Canaan High School's production of "The Wizard of Oz." The high school musicals sometimes look for younger kids to play minor roles or serve as extras in the performances. Ashton's older sister, Whitney, went to try out and, on a whim, Ashton decided to do the same. He ended up getting a part. Such a passion comes as a source of joy and relief for his mother, Chrissy.

"I love it because I first saw Ashton's humor and personality completely blossom, and I thought it was because he was around theater people, and I thought, `Wow, this is where he belongs this is where he thrives,'" she said. "You always want to know what your thing is, and it doesn't matter to me what it is as long as you find it."

Of course, it's one thing to be passionate about something and quite another to excel at it. What sets Ashton apart from the hundreds of other kids trying out for parts in Broadway shows?

"Just that he's got it. He's got the gift of gab," Dave McKeown, who for the last two years has managed Ashton and Whitney, who is also a performer, said. "When he walks into a room, he owns the room with his personality. He gets people interested in him right away."

Melody Libonati is the director of the Performing Arts Conservatory of New Canaan and the artistic director of the Summer Theater in Waveny.

"Ashton started by coming here to the Performing Arts Conservatory to work on an audition piece for when the high school was doing the "Wizard of Oz." He kind of had a knack for it," she said.

"He was wonderful in `Priscilla,'" Magaziner said. "He was very natural. He has a knack for being very natural and I think the casting directors notice that. As a person he can be goofy he constantly cracks me up in lessons."

If he's "got it" and he's "a natural" it might be in part because he simply enjoys being up there on stage under the lights.

"When I'm on stage I feel nervous and confident at the same time because I know there are people supporting me out there and they won't care if I do something wrong and I also know if I make a mistake with my line no one else in the theater will know, only me," the young actor explained.

What the future holds is unknown. Ashton said he'd like to keep improving his technique and acting.

"I think as long as he's having fun and works with good people that can guide him, that's going to be good for him," Libonati said. "I think his having a family that's very supportive is very important. Everyone on the Tonys and Academy Awards say thanks to the people who helped get them there. He's got a good start and I think he's having a blast."

Magaziner also noted how important parents are to the success of a child actor.

"Ashton and Whitney have the perfect parents. They're supportive without being pushy and that's a rare combination," she said.

With that combination of nature and nurture, McKeown thinks Ashton will continue and go even farther.

"He's a great kid for Broadway but there's more out there for him, like TV and film, and I think he's going to end up in a series one day."

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews