Lee Emery Scharfstein was a theater kid.
At Pleasantville High School — which had a Staples High-style professional performing arts program — he starred in shows like “West Side Story” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” He sang too — at Carnegie Hall.
As a freshman at Tulane University he was cast as the widow’s lover in the 1994 film “Interview With the Vampire.” (Tom Cruise bit him.)
He spent summers in LA, but quickly learned that being an actor involves very little acting. Lee wanted to control his own destiny, so after moving to New York he took any kind of production assistant work he could.
He worked his way up the ladder. Now a Westport resident, Lee produced and directed music videos, documentaries, short films and commercials.
He spent 12 years on the agency side, as an executive in creative development.
But you can’t keep a theater kid out of the theater. Even if that kid is now in his 40s, a father, and hasn’t been on stage in more than 20 years.
Lee’s younger daughter Kaya is a 5th grader. Like her dad, she loves performing. She’s honed her skills at Broadway Method Academy, the Fairfield-based non-profit that trains youngsters in acting, singing, and dancing.
But even a kid-heavy show like “Newsies” — which closes its 2-week run at the Westport Country Playhouse this weekend — needs adults.
Which is how Lee has ended up back on stage.
And sharing it with his daughter.
Kaya is in the ensemble. Lee has 3 roles: Pulitzer’s henchman Wiesel, the deli owner and mayor.
“It’s a lot of work!” he says. The show was mounted in just 5 weeks. Tech week was particularly intense.
But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s so much fun to be with these talented kids, as they learn and grow,” he notes. “And it’s important to support our arts programs.”
Hearing cues from the orchestra brings Lee back to his high school days. Nothing he has done compares to acting on stage, he says. “Newsies” has transported him back to “the childlike wonder” of his early theater experiences.
Acting at the Playhouse is special for anyone — especially a Westporter. Lee appreciates its renowned place in the theater world. It’s always a thrill to step on the section of stage that comes from the original.
He admits to stage fright before every performance. He felt that way in high school too. On the other hand, he says, “I haven’t forgotten any lines.”
As for sharing a show with his daughter: “It’s like drinking from the fountain of youth. It’s nice that she’s still at an age when she’s not embarrassed by me.”
In fact, when she passes him backstage Kaya says, “Go get ’em, Tiger!”
With the perspective of parenthood, Lee occasionally tears up. “Seeing these great kids, their talented director Chaz Wolcott, and Equity actors like him who were part of the national tour — and being there with my daughter — it’s just a really great part of my life. I feel like the stars aligned for me to do this.”
“Newsies” closes Sunday. So what’s next?
“I’m very lucky. I love producing, directing, and the branding consulting I’ve been doing. Each fuels the other,” Lee says.
“I’ve written a couple of screenplays. My wife and I took a stand-up comedy class last year. And I’ve committed myself to do more stage and camera work.”
Once a theater kid, always a theater kid.
(“Newsies” is performed Friday, February 14 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, February 15 at 1:30 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, February 16 at 3 p.m. For tickets and more information, click here.)