To watch Henry Hodges in the role of Billy McPherson, the “kid” in The Kid Who Would be Pope, is to watch creativity in action. In the performance, he has to capture the spirit of the new boy at the musical’s 1960s parochial school setting while also underscoring the authenticity of youthful first love – for a singing nun. Hodges is just shy of 21, and Billy is 10 years his junior. But the actor, whose Broadway creds include Macbeth, Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Beauty and the Beast, is a veteran at applying his bright-eyed looks to younger roles. When The Kid was staged in the past, the roles have been played by child actors. For the free Ars Nova workshop production, which runs May 20-22 at 511 W. 54th Street in New York City, Hodges is among seven adult actors playing the parts of children. We asked Hodges about Billy, about acting younger and about his work with co-creators and brothers Tom and Jack Megan.
The Kid Who Would Be Pope co-creators Tom and Jack Megan have been thinking about and playing music together since they were boys growing up in Massachusetts. Their great-grandfather, an Irish immigrant, made sure his children had a musical education. Their grandfather, a lawyer, was a brilliant pianist and bought pianos for all his children when they had their own homes. Their father was a soloist at Trinity Church in Boston. Their mother is a pianist.
Both Tom and Jack are accomplished musicians in their own right – Tom on piano, guitar and trumpet, Jack on piano. They began working on The Kid when a friend at a summer creative arts camp for children asked them to write a musical quickly for 50 kids. They wrote the piece in a month, and then it took on a life of its own eventually landing at the New York Musical Festival in New York City and garnering the 2013 Richard Rodgers Award and the 2013 American Harmony Prize.
For the free workshop production on May 20-22 at Ars Nova, the brothers have written new songs, tweaked original songs and developed the script. They are also working with adult actors in the roles of children, a big shift from earlier productions.
“The adult actors bring a new range and accessibility to the roles,” says Tom. “We miss the beautiful children who played it in the past. They were endearing and talented. But seeing it played by adults allows us to see it in a different way which is very, very exciting.”
Two of the adult performers – Jillian Louis as Sister Katherine and Kevin McGlynn as Sister Rudy – were in the NYMF production, and they bring the depth of experience to their repeated roles. Watching the veteran and new performers has been an inspiration.
“It’s exciting to hear very talented and gifted actors and directors bring the story to life,” says Jack Megan.
The musical is about Billy McPherson, the new kid at a parochial school in the 1960s. He falls in love with a young singing nun at the school and sets his sights on becoming Pope in the hopes of changing Church doctrine and marrying Sister Katherine.
“It’s a play about growing up and coming of age and discovering your own creative power and the nature of love,” says Jack. “It’s set in the Catholic milieu Tom and I grew up in, but it’s a universal story that has been told in every culture and religion that has a coming-of-age tradition.”
Although the Megans have been influenced by the sounds they grew up with at home, as well as the more popular music of The Beatles – “As kids, we took tennis rackets and pretended we were The Beatles. We strummed like John and Paul,” says Tom – the big luminary is Stephen Sondheim.
“He is, for me in so many ways, the most influential,” says Tom. “He sets the standard and the rigor and also the audacity of subject matter. There’s a long list of others. He’s just at the top.”
But there’s also no shortage of sibling admiration between the brothers as well. They’re simpatico with humor. And the impulse toward creativity is in their shared DNA. It’s a family imperative – carried through the ages and into a new work of musical theater.
Alyse Alan Louis is a graduate of NYU Tisch School for the Arts and a veteran of the Broadway show Mamma Mia!. But she has been onstage since she was 10, which one year younger than Ali, the character she plays in The Kid Who Would Be Pope. We asked Alyse to tell us about developing the role and the themes of the musical.
Tell us about your character.
I play 11-year-old Alison McNally. Ali’s a spitfire and rebel. I love how direct, smart and funny she is. In the show, she befriends Billy McPherson (Henry Hodges), the “new kid” at Our Lady of Perpetual Motion. Billy and Ali are really each others’ first true friends, and Ali accompanies Billy on his quest for miracles.
What’s it like playing a character outside your own age range?
Capturing a child’s instincts and how sincerely children see the world is always fun and quite a challenge. I would say its much more challenging than playing my own age. I had the pleasure of watching the incredibly talented kids, who were actually the age of the kids in this show, perform in the NYMF production of The Kid Who Would Be Pope. I think about them a lot as I get back in touch with my own inner child and bring my own voice to this musical.
The play is set in the 1960s. How did you prepare for that?
Like the kids in this show, my parents were both students at the same Catholic grade school in the 1960s. I’ve been thinking of them and the stories they told about growing up at that time.
What do you think are the major themes in the show, and what do you hope audiences will take away from it?
I think some of the major themes are first love, faith, friendship and the search for true miracles. I hope that watching young characters navigate their way through this musical transports audiences back to a much simpler, more innocent time in their lives where the line between truth and fantasy was so confusingly and beautifully blurred.
Tell us about a favorite moment in rehearsal: What happened?
My favorite moment in rehearsal each day is seeing my sister Jillian Louis, who plays Sister Katherine. Having the opportunity to work together on The Kid Who Would Be Pope is such a special experience. During our first read and sing through, I felt the same way I felt when I watched her perform for the very first time when I was a little girl: inspired and in awe. We are very lucky to be sisters and to be getting to do what we love together.
Alyse Alan Louis will perform the role of Ali in The Kid Who Would Be Pope, May 20-22 at Ars Nova, 511 W. 54th Street, New York City. Tickets are free. For more information and reservations, click here.
“The Kid Who Would Be Pope” received a concert reading on February 18th, 2013 at Curtain Call Theatre in Stamford Connecticut. The writers were presented the 2013 American Harmony Prize following the performance. Cast members: Nathan Brenn, Kevin B. McGlynn, Jillian Louis, Rachel Resheff, Tom Sourada, Carolee Goodgold, Grace Cashman, Noah Radcliffe, Ben Radcliffe, Leah Greenhaus, Sarah Safer. Don’t miss this great article in which the Stamford Advocate interviews kids from the show!
The ‘Kid’ has won the 2013 Richards Rogers award. The intent of this award, created and endowed by Richard Rodgers, is to nurture talented composers and playwrights by enabling their musicals to be produced in New York City.
Got Online? Yes we do have some great online reviews…here are quotes from a variety of sources with links to the whole THING. We be glad we GOT Online ‘Views!
“This happy brilliant musical take on the Catholic School Experience is a joy.”
“Blessed be the creators that can cause such merriment.”
“This fun show is great for kids and adults because it’s a show about hope, love, and following your dreams until you reach them!”
We received our first review yesterday from Backstage. Calling the show “endearing” and “fun-filled” “with an upbeat score” Backstage’s critic Suzy Evans then stamped it with a Critic’s Choice Seal! We are so proud of our cast and creative staff!
BREAKING NEWS!THE KID had a sensational run of workshop performances at Ars Nova May 20-22 in New York City! Thanks to the terrific cast, director West Hyler, and musical director Jeffrey Lodin! Also thanks to Ars Nova and the Richard Rodgers Foundation! More updates coming soon - follow us on Facebook and Twitter.