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Meet Greenburgh's Own Broadway Star
Samuel Li Weintraub is not your typical five-year-old, and yet, he is.
Like most kids his age, he attends pre-school (at the Early Childhood Program in Greenburgh) and builds stuff with Legos that he scatters across the living room floor in his family’s Hartsdale home.
But four nights a week, after a blessed afternoon nap, he hops into the car with his father Robert or his mother Lin, heads into Manhattan and takes the stage on Broadway to perform as Tam, the son of the tragic heroine in “Miss Saigon” (For two of the four performances he is a standby for Tam and plays an “Exodus Child” in a chorus scene at the end of Act 1.)
Samuel’s debut in the revival was literally an overnight flurry of unexpected activity when Lin, a piano player and teacher, was approached by a student whose husband is an acting agent. “She told me that I should contact her husband about getting Samuel into acting,” said Lin.
Lin contacted the agent, fully expecting that she would not hear back. But over the following week, that one decision snowballed into a frenzy of activity that ultimately ended with Samuel on the Broadway stage. “At one point,” said Lin, “they asked me for a resume and I had to pull something together. What five-year-old has a resume?”
Just one week after contacting the agent, Samuel and his mother found themselves on Valentine’s Day in New York City, auditioning for the part of Tam along with 11 other children.
Nervous parents had to wait outside during the auditions, and some children left early and in tears. But when Samuel emerged from the auditions and his mother asked him how it went, he simply said, “It was fun.”
The other young children may have been scared off by the “loud noises” produced during the audition, and the producers knew what they were doing. In “Miss Saigon,” a tragic love story set in war-torn Viet Nam, Tam appears in one scene during which he is grabbed and threatened with a knife by the antagonist in the show, Thuy. Tam’s onstage mother Kim, played in the revival by Eva Nobelzada (recently nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical), pulls out a gun and kills the man threatening her son.
Samuel, who loves the “Miss Saigon” music and wants to hear it constantly, “knows that this is play-acting, and that the scenes are not real,” said his father.
Robert has been a fan of “Miss Saigon” since first seeing the original production years ago in New York. To prepare Samuel, he and Lin found an online video of the scene in which Kim shoots Thuy in front of the boy. “We knew there were intense scenes in the show and explained that to him,” said Robert. “His answer was, ‘I want to be the Tam.’”
Robert, who works in the watch and jewelry industry, but is also a trained former professional opera singer, knew that Samuel had an interest in performing and musical theater. When he was just four years old last October, Samuel performed a number from the musical “Big Fish” with his father in a Broadway revue concert in Greenwich, CT, and loved it.
After the auditions, life became a sudden flurry of activity for the family. Samuel had a contract the following day, a Wednesday, and his parents had to obtain a temporary work permit, doctors’ records, and notes from his school. By Thursday, Feb. 16, Samuel was in his first rehearsal for “Miss Saigon” on the stage of The Broadway Theater. The show opened in previews on March 1st with the formal opening night on March 23rd.
Samuel currently performs four times a week, where he plays Tam in 2 performances and Exodus Child, which the children refer to as “Bonus Tam,” a scene at the end of act one of “Miss Saigon” when the refugees board a boat. Currently, the show features four children, one four-year-old boy, two five-year-old boys, and one six-year-old girl playing the part of Tam and Exodus Child on a rotating basis.
Getting Samuel on a schedule to do the show has been the Weintraub’s biggest challenge. He attends half-day classes at the Early Childhood Center, takes an afternoon nap, and then heads on show days into New York, where he has a 2:15 pm call for matinee performances and an 8:15 pm call for evening performances to report backstage. Some nights, he may not get to bed until after midnight. So that afternoon nap is a lifesaver.
Samuel has been in the ECP program, which the Weintraub’s called “a really good fit for our son,” since last January.