Move over, Kelli O’Hara. Westport’s got another Broadway star.
Middle school student Jaden Myles Waldman made his debut last month in the Roundabout Theatre Studio 54’s “Caroline, or Change.”
He plays Noah, the young son of a Jewish family in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in 1963. In the wake of his mother’s death from lung cancer, he sees the 39-year-old Black woman who cares for him (and the household) as a substitute parent. She deals, meanwhile, with her own difficult circumstances, including raising her children without a husband.
Three young actors alternate as Noah Gellman. The New York Times’ Jesse Green saw Jaden in the role, and gave the “devastating, uncomfortable, crucial musical” (with book by Tony Kushner) an excellent review. (Click here to read.)
“Caroline, or Change” is quite a story. So is Jaden’s route to the role.
Jaden — who has also appeared on television in “Pinkalicious & Peterrific,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “The Plot Against America” — was asked to audition for Noah 2 years ago He listened to the original Broadway cast album, and loved the mix of music: klezmer, blues, show tunes, Motown, Mozart and girl groups.
He liked the chance to play a Jewish boy — “after being in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” he notes — and with a limited run, he appreciated that it would not take him away from school, soccer or friends for too long.
That was before COVID. Jaden loves to sing, but had never take voice lessons. He worked with Westporter Lynn Riegler to learn the music, then with a New York voice teacher. The music was challenging, but exciting.
The pandemic shut the show down before it could open. Jaden kept up his voice lessons, gaining more confidence each month.
Now Broadway — and “Caroline” — are back.
The show is complex. One special challenge is a fight scene with the title character. Jaden — out of breath from running around in the previous number — must punch and kick Caroline, all while singing a powerful song.
A greater challenge was not knowing if he’d outgrow the part during the shutdown. Some of the young actors did. Jaden had a bittersweet feeling when he learned that Roundabout was sticking with him.
The best part of the show is riding on the turntable, flying in to the moon. “You have to see the show” to understand that reference, he says.
He considers every cast member a friend. “Not just the kids,” he says. “The adults are super awesome too. Everyone is nice and fun, and so funny. It’s never boring.”
He’s gotten support from school administrators. He was tutored for 3 hours a day at the theater during rehearsals and tech. He’s augmented that with trips to places like the Met and 9/11 Museum.
In addition, he says, “my mom (Stacie) makes me do things like figure out tips at restaurants.”
Jaden spends off days back in school. He missed it during rehearsals — along with his friends, and club soccer.
The run ends January 9. Then Jaden Waldman goes back to being a completely normal Westport kid.
Except for the Broadway credit next to his name.