There are tons of times adults in the entertainment industry wow us with their fanciful dancing, their spectacular portrayal of characters, and their singing. Let’s face it. Performers are invaluable in the performing arts. Yet, there are times when an adult cannot do the job required, simply because the character is a child.
When this happens producers call on child performers to play these roles. Here are some of our favorite musicals featuring child performers.
1. Sound of Music
This is a musical that seems to show up time and time again when compiling lists of musicals, which is just another tribute to its excellence. There is no doubting, that without the seven children Maria is sent to govern, this story would not even exist.
It is based on the true life love story of Maria von Trapp and her husband Captain von Trapp who had seven children from a previous marriage. The real family barely escaped the Nazi regime as they took over Austria. The family also sang in real life.
Utilizing Maria’s memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, Rodgers and Hammerstein, penned a musical that has become the story of legend in itself. The songs are recognizable by most people, old and young. With tunes like “Edelweiss”, “Do-Re-Mi”, and the title track “The Sound of Music” this musical is the text book version of a classic.
The original Broadway production of this musical premiered at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in 1959 and moved one time to the Mark Hellinger Theatre in 1962, after giving nearly fifteen hundred performances.
That year The Sound of Music received Tony Awards for Best Actress in a Musical, Best Featured Actress, Best Scenic Design, and Best Musical Direction. This production also tied for Best Musical with Fiorello!. The young actors and actresses who played the von Trapp children were nominated for Best Featured Actress category, even though two of them were not girls.
2. Bugsy Malone
This musical is unique to our list because every part is, in fact, played by children. It is set in the roaring twenties and follows a group of gangsters, the guns they use shoot cream pies in faces and the cars are all controlled like bicycles.
Paul Williams wrote the songs that accompany this story of a boxing promoter with the title name. Bugsy meets Blousey, a gal new to the city who has dreams of going to Hollywood. Bugsy helps get Blousey a job at Fat Sam’s speakeasy but also meets Leroy Smith, who saves him when he is getting mugged.
Leroy is a natural boxer and Bugsy knows he can help promote him. Blousey is upset because he promised to help her move to Hollywood. All this time though Fat Sam is having a gang war with Dandy Dan, and the latter of the two has a new gun that can shoot a splurge of cream pies.
Dandy Dan has been wiping out Fat Sam’s men and slowly taking over his territory. Sam offers Bugsy money to help him defeat Dandy Dan and he agrees because he needs the money but when he agrees he angers Blousey again for postponing her dreams of moving to Hollywood.
3. The Music Man
This next musical has a very famous child star on its roster and that would be world famous actor and director Ron Howard. Of course, this was way before he played Opie or Richie Cunningham and far before his transition into director, creating hits like Night Shift and A Beautiful Mind.
This 1962 movie musical also stars Robert Preston as Harold Hill a traveling salesman who is really a con man. He rolls into Iowa and entices the good people of River City that their new pool table will corrupt their youth. What they needed, according to Hill, is a boy band and he was just the man to get them the instruments and teach them.
Yet, the instruments are taking a great deal of time to arrive, and Hill is educating them through his own method, which requires pretending to have an instrument. The town rallies behind the charming man even though Marian the librarian suspects he is up to something all along.
Once she finally gets proof that Harold Hill is truly a swindler it is too late, her younger brother Winthrop who has struggled socially for so long is finally breaking out of his shell all with the help of Harold Hill. Besides, she has fallen in love with him and she didn’t become a spinster after all.
4. Mary Poppins
Even though there are only two children in the cast of this musical it is one that can bring any of us back to our childhood. The plot centers around the Banks family who are in need of a nanny. Jane and Michael force their caretaker Katie Nanna, to leave the family for running away from her again, their father pens an ad to hire a new nanny.
Mary Poppins appears on their doorstep after a strong wind blows all the other applicants far away. Deciding that she will take the job before she is even offered it, Mary Poppins begins her quest to give Jane and Michael fun and structure.
They jump into sidewalk drawings, dance with cartoon penguins, and fly away on carousel horses.
In the meantime, Mr. Banks is more and more concerned with his job than he is with the state of his own family. He also finds Mary Poppins frustrating with her cherry attitude and considers letting her go. The nanny is a force he shouldn’t reckon with and before he knows it Mr. Banks not only continues to employ Mary Poppins; he agrees to take his children to work for a day.
Chaos ensues but the ending is a happy one for this family when Mr. Banks adopts a new outlook in his life. He fixes his children’s kite and they run off to fly it. The Banks family skips off to the park as the wind begins to blow in a new direction. This is the sign, that it is time for Mary Poppins to head in a new direction.
This musical is based on the legendary Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. The story centers around an orphan boy who runs away from an undertaker to which he had been sold by the proprietor of the orphanage. With all the child parts it is no wonder this work relied heavily on child performers.
Oliver finds himself in the hustle and bustle of London alone but excited by all the sights he sees. It is here where Oliver meets his new friend, the Artful Dodger who tell the boy he should “consider himself at home” with him and in his new city. Oliver trusts his new friend and follows him home.
Home for Dodger and many other boys that are orphaned is with Fagin, an old man who employs boys to pick pockets and commit petty robbery for his benefit. They bring him their wares and he gives them shelter, food, and a loose sense of family.
Yet, when Oliver witnesses Dodger lifting a wallet out of the pocket of Mr. Brownlow, who notices and calls the police. The new pickpocket is arrested for the crime but is seen by Mr. Brownlow as innocent. The man takes Oliver to his home to live. After a few days of living there Mr. Brownlow lets Oliver return some books for him and money for the bookshop keeper. Yet, once he leaves the house, the dark world he was once a part of interferes with his new found happiness.