Midtown Muse

Raleigh thespian to make Broadway debut

Midtown MuseFebruary 1, 2014 

Reed Shannon (far right, off-white shirt) with Berry Gordy (center, in hat) and Charles Randolph Wright (left) along with finalists for the roles of young Berry Gordy, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder during auditions in Manhattan, N.Y., for “Motown the Musical.”

PHOTOS COURTESY OF KEITH SHANNON

A note to audiences of the NC Theatre production of “Les Miserables”: Reed Shannon, the 13-year-old wholl play Gavroche, is headed to Broadway.

Two weeks after the Feb. 11-23 production of “Les Miserables” ends at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in Midtown , Reed will transform from the fictional street child in Paris into young versions of King of Pop Michael Jackson, Motown music mogul Berry Gordy and Grammy-winning artist Stevie Wonder in Broadway’s first national tour of “Motown the Musical.”

Reed’s role in the epic musical as Gavroche in Les Mis is a big deal, too. It’s the first time in its 30-year history that NCT will present the play, and it’s happening on the heels of the recent Academy Award-winning film adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel about the survival of the human spirit. And, like all roles in NCT’s regional productions, Reeds was up for grabs by actors out of Actors ' Equity Association, the labor union in New York that represents theater actors and stage managers. In all, 108 boys tried out to portray Gavroche.

Reed is ready for local and national audiences.

“I never wanted to do anything else,” said the Wakefield Middle School seventh-grader.

His parents, Keith and Belinda Shannon, credit NCT as their son’s training ground.

“It was always just with the intentions of giving him an outlet for the things he likes to do,” Belinda Shannon said.

With 10 years of experience singing, acting and dancing, Reed performed the lead role in the NCT Conservatory’s 2013 production of “In the Heights,” and starred as the youngest Tommy in the conservatory’s 2012 show, “The Who’s Tommy.”

“He’s really committed to the moment,” said Tito Hernandez, NCT’s director of dance, who taught Reed musical theater, jazz, tap and ballet dance genres. “Whenever he’s on stage, you can’t help but watch him.”

“Reed has that wonderful combination of, not just talent, but intelligence,” said Carolee Baxter, NCT’s producer, who works alongside the director for “Les Miserables,” Dave Clemmons. “It’s refreshing to have a kid so talented and so bright also be so humble,” she said.

Reed landed the Motown role after an open call audition in September at New York City’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, a Broadway venue in midtown Manhattan. More than 1,000 people showed up for the audition. Among them were young boys like Reed, vying amid a nationwide search for Little Berry/Little MJ /Little Stevie.

“I was prepared. I was confident about myself and I tried to put any doubt out of my mind and stay focused,” said Reed. He called his mom and his pastor, the Rev. Bankole Akinbinu of Baptist Grove Church, for a bit of reassurance as he stood in line as No. 245, accompanied by his dad.

Two months later, after about three callbacks that included a taped audition and one in front of Berry Gordy Reed got the call he’d been hired. He was sitting outside the Harlem School of the Arts, eating a hoagie with his parents.

“I was speechless,” said Reed, who auditioned with hits such as “I Want You Back,” “ABD,” “The Love You Save,” and “Who’s Loving You.”

“I was just really happy,” he said.

The casting director is happy, too.

“I loved Reed,” said Bethany Knox, the New York-based Telsey + Company casting director who helped cast Reed. “He stood out, first and foremost, for his amazing smile, singing voice and professionalism.”

Knox said consistency is crucial for child actors.

“By the time Reed was called back to audition in front of Motown’s Gordy,” Knox said, “it was clear he was able to sustain that level of professionalism and talent.”

“We’re looking forward to seeing more of Reed,” she added.

Reed begins rehearsals for Motown on March 10. The show opens May 14 at Chicago’s Oriental Theater.

The tour will run in Chicago through mid-August. From there, the tour heads to San Francisco and Las Angeles for six weeks each, to Cleveland and Detroit for four weeks apieced, and then around the country for shows in several cities over about two weeks. The show is expected in Charlotte in August 2015 and, word is, there could be some showtimes at the Durham Performing Arts Center, too.

Ray Walker is NCT’s artistic director who has watched Reed advance from a 3-year-old following his sister’s footsteps in classes at NCT to a student in upper-level and company classes.

Now were really seeing the fruits of our labor, said Walker, whose own Broadway credits include “Les Miserables,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and the revival of “Grease.”

“We created the opportunity for him to be his absolute best and Reed brought it home for us,” Walker said. “This is Reed’s time.”

Wiggins: ldrwigg@gmail.com

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