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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the November 27, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Behind the Fame, a Family

Although she can’t tell you who said it first, Marianne

Hall has a cherished quotation: "You can teach children to be

great actors by giving them lots and lots of lessons or by just giving

them a happy childhood."

"It’s such a great quote," she says with an energy and enthusiasm

that seems contagious. It is also a quotation that she tries to live

by.

Marianne Hall, trained as a lawyer, and husband Dennis Hall, a professor

of anesthesiology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New

Jersey, are the parents of three working actors — all under 16

— and one engineer.

The Hall’s three theatrical kids are Anthony Blair Hall, 15; Dennis

Michael Hall, 13; and Juliette Marie Hall, 11. And although the three

youngest are only in tenth, eighth, and seventh grade respectively,

the boys’ resumes already include featured roles in "Ragtime,"

"Seussical," "The Full Monty," Shakespeare in Central

Park, and "A Christmas Carol" at Madison Square Garden.

According to their mother, because they were boy sopranos (apparently

with nerves of steel), Anthony and Dennis never had to take acting

lessons, expensive summer workshops, or private coaching to get to

Broadway. All three children currently study voice in New York with

Evelyn La Quaif.

"We found these kids singing in their cradles," says Marianne.

"They always had an uncanny ear for pitch. Even singing in the

bathtub they’d be in perfect pitch. We encouraged them but we had

no concept what to expect."

And why would they? The Hall’s eldest daughter, Rose, a Rutgers graduate,

showed no such passion for theater. She recently completed her master’s

degree in engineering at Stanford University and is working in Palo

Alto, California.

Before the arrival of their trio of musical offspring, the adult Halls

were in private practice in Vineland. But in 1998, the couple decided

to move both their professional and private lives — the children’s

commute was killing them. The family success was such that they chose

to relocate to a spacious yet unpretentious home in Princeton, off

Carter Road.

All three young Halls started studying piano aroung age seven and

learned how to read music — something which, Marianne notes, is

not always the case for Broadway performers. Their love of singing

led to auditions for the Philadelphia Boys Choir and more recently,

for Juliette, the Princeton Girl Choir.

The Hall theater bug took hold in earnest in 1997 when Anthony, age

10 and a member of the Philadelphia Boys Choir, landed the role of

Young Scrooge (at age eight) in the holiday favorite, "A Christmas

Carol," presented at Madison Square Garden for an audience of

more than 5,000. By the time the next holiday season rolled around,

Anthony had graduated into the role of Tiny Tim and younger brother

Dennis was playing Young Scrooge.

It happens that the boys are of two completely different physical

types: Anthony has dark eyes and curly hair; Dennis has blue eyes

and straight hair. Their acting styles are also different. And since

Anthony has become the tenor his mother predicted he would be, it’s

a safe bet that Dennis will one day become a baritone. Their sister

Juliette, who just turned 11 and has been performing in "Tosca"

this month in Englewood, plans to remain a soprano.

"When Anthony first got into this, I told him, `You know, this

represents your childhood, you’re losing your childhood,’" recalls

Marianne. "He said, `This is better than a childhood.’ And I said

`Okay, we’ll just keep doing it until you tell us to stop, and then

we’ll stop.’"

Marianne grew up in Bergen County, one of five children.

"My family were opera buffs. I’m told my mother’s sister was an

opera singer, but in that era she wasn’t allowed to go to Paris. My

father’s sister was a wonderful pianist."

Husband Dennis Hall, who grew up in suburban Washington, D.C., also

enjoyed music and played a pretty good jazz trumpet in his youth.

As he stops by the house during our noontime interview, he makes a

brief, tongue-in-cheek introduction: "I’m a stage dad — that’s

all I do. Oh, and sometimes I go to work for a living."

Equally committed is Marianne. Juggling her roles as mother, manager,

chaperone, and legal mind — she is tireless in her promotion of

her theatrical brood. Throughout our interview, the mother of two

bona fide Broadway stars never misses a chance to put in an encouraging

word for her youngest, Juliette. The family recognizes the extra challenges

she faces.

"It’s so hard for the girls to get started," explains Marianne.

"There are so few boys who sing well and who really want to do

this. But there are 50 girls auditioning for every boy."

The theme recurs when Dennis notes that at his parochial school, St.

Paul’s in Princeton, "most of the guys at my school are pretty

nice to me, they think I’m really lucky. Most of them right now aren’t

going to want to sing and dance on stage. But the girls do. So most

of the girls in my class don’t like me that much."

"We say the children get their talent from God," says Marianne.

"All three began with opera, all three have had classical training."

And the first show for each of the three children was the internationally

cherished Christmas favorite, Gian Carlo Mennotti’s "Amahl and

the Night Visitors."

Is there any money for young people on Broadway?

"Yes, a good deal," says Marianne. "And there’s a lot

going on in this business that’s horrendous — like children supporting

whole families of seven and the parents not even working." She

says Anthony, now a sophomore at the Lawrenceville School, has already

paid for four years of his future college. "There are several

families on Broadway where the children do support their families

and those children are under terrible strain and they’re very unhappy

children," she adds.

When the Hall boys get paid it is put into a separate account which,

she says, "they know is theirs," and a mutual fund is purchased

with each show’s earnings. Asked if they’ve suffered from the recent

stock market misery, she replies: "We try to be very conservative,

we haven’t done anything risky!"

Marianne says she not only wants her children to enjoy their childhood,

she encourages them to see it as a youthful lark, rather than a lifetime

commitment.

Anthony’s most demanding job to date was creating the role of JoJo

in "Seussical" — a play that received a rave review from

Simon Saltzman in U.S. 1 but was panned by Ben Brantley in the New

York Times. Anthony performed in "Seussical" from July, 2000,

to its closing in 2001. This summer, as a tenor, he originated the

lead role of Henry in a new rock opera titled, "Henry’s House,"

adapted for the stage by Lo Faber and Kevin McGuire. The six-week

summer production was presented by the Theater Company at Hubbard

Hall in Cambridge, New York.

Asked what qualities has brought him theatrical success, Anthony modestly

puts quite a bit of it down to the luck of his Madison Square Garden

debut. "I got the `Christmas Carol’ audition pretty much within

the hour of trying out for my agent, Nancy Carson. And I was lucky

enough to get the part at my very first audition," he says.

As Marianne tells it, the pair went to meet Carson for the first time

and she spent 10 minutes with Anthony, then asked her to take her

son to lunch and come back to meet someone. When they returned, the

casting director from "Christmas Carol" had arrived to audition

Anthony and the die was cast.

"I think it pretty much started with my voice," says Anthony.

"When I found out I had a voice, I was like, `This could be fun.’

And every time I perform I love it, I have a blast. It’s not something

I’ll probably want to do when I get older — and it’s definitely

not something I thought about before it happened — but it’s fun

and I love doing it."

"Henry’s House" fortuitously ended the day before he had to

return for his sophomore year at Lawrenceville School. At age 15,

he says he’s working less, and keeping the school year for school,

"which is hard enough."

Younger brother Dennis seems even more of a stage natural. And he

faithfully followed in Anthony’s footsteps to get his foot in the

door. "When they found out he had a voice, I asked if I could

try out too," says Dennis. "I got into the boys choir and

the next year I auditioned for `Christmas Carol,’ and when Anthony

had Tiny Tim, I had Scrooge at eight, and then the next year I did

Tiny Tim."

Now Dennis is enjoying an extended run in the spotlight, starring

as young Prince Edward in "The Prince and the Pauper" at Off-Broadway’s

Lamb’s Theater. The show, which opened last June and enjoyed a sell-out

summer, has just come off a five-week fall recess to re-open for the

holidays beginning Wednesday, November 27. Its 12-member ensemble

cast returns with renewed energy for the family theater season and

to celebrate the release of the cast album on the Jay Records label.

Based on the classic Mark Twain novel, "The Prince and the Pauper"

features a book by Bernie Garzia and Ray Roderick (who also directs

the show), with music and lyrics by Neil Berg. Set in medieval London,

it tells the story of a young protected prince and a destitute beggar

who exchange places. Hall stars as the Prince opposite the look-alike

pauper Tom Canty, played by Gerard Canonico, a graduate of "Les

Miserables" who cut some theatrical teeth in "The King and

I" at Paper Mill.

Presented in the historic and intimate Lamb’s Theater, which seats

about 350, the children in the audience are just a few feet away from

the children on the stage, allowing them to become part of the play.

A school study guide has also been created for the show’s young audiences.

Writing in U.S. 1 (July 3, 2002), critic Simon Saltzman praised the

"perfect pairing of Hall and Canonico," describing how "The

Prince and the Pauper" "offers the pleasure of watching two

delightful young actors hold the stage as the twins who trade places.

. . Each of these nicely contrasted lads displays an endearing personality

and an impressive talent."

Dennis, who has been commuting to New York for eight shows a week

since June, seems unflustered by his demanding work life, which requires

him to punch a clock five days a week. His role as Prince Edward keeps

him on-stage for the entire two-act show, during which he portrays

the boredom of a life of privilege and his boyish terror at finding

himself alone on the mean streets of London. Rather than relishing

the down time, he spent his November hiatus from "The Prince and

the Pauper" working, this time in Philadelphia.

Joining the Philadelphia Orchestra and Wilma Theater’s

co-production "Every Good Boy Deserves Favor," Dennis was

on-stage at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall from November 20 to 26.

The play with music, scored for full symphony orchestra, was created

by playwright Tom Stoppard and composer Andre Previn and premiered

in 1976. Dennis was featured as nine-year-old Sacha in a cast of just

six actors that starred Tony Award-winner Richard Easton and David

Strathairn; the actors shared the Kimmel stage with 87 orchestra members

directed by Rossen Milanov. Last weekend Philadelphia Inquirer critic

Desmond Ryan wrote that "no one should miss this fascinated if

flawed fusion of the theater and concert stage," and noted "a

fine contribution from young Dennis Michael Hall."

"Fortunately for all my children, they have worked with the most

gifted people on Broadway — it’s incredible," says their mother.

The Halls treasures their early experience with their "Christmas

Carol" directors, the late Mike Ockrent and Ray Roderick. Ockrent

died of leukemia in 1999 and his assistant director Roderick is now

both writer and director of the currently successful "Prince and

the Pauper."

"Both of those men were so nice, it made it a lot easier to overcome

our first stage fright," says Dennis. "The first `Christmas

Carol’ I did, I was more nervous off-stage, but when I walked on-stage

I went, `Whoa, this is awesome!’"

Anthony’s most challenging big role in "Seussical" was directed

by Frank Galati, artistic director of Chicago’s Goodman Theater.

"When I was rehearsing `Seussical,’ I had a scene of about two

minutes by myself on-stage. And we spent about two hours, one-on-one,

working on it. He told me what he thought I should be thinking, what

I should be doing, what I should be seeing at every point in the song.

He was such a nice man."

When I ask if the children find it a grind working on the same show

week in and week out, Marianne notes that Actors’ Equity will not

allow children to be signed for more than six months at a time, so

the children always have an out.

"Typically when you do a Broadway or an Off-Broadway opening,

the original cast stays around for one year and then they leave and

do something else," says Marianne. "The plum is getting the

opening because then you create the role, it’s your characterization,

and you get to record the cast album."

Anthony, who also enjoys competitive soccer, wrestling, and running,

insists that working in the theater is not a chore. "I’ve never

done something on stage that I didn’t want to do. I mean I’ve been

tired a few days, but whenever I go on-stage, it’s like going to a

soccer game: you get out there and the adrenaline starts pumping and

you get into it. I think it’s taught me a lot more discipline. And

with freedom comes responsibility, so it has taught me a lot about

that."

Asked why the family did not choose to settle in Manhattan over Princeton,

Marianne insists that family life comes first. "My husband and

I felt we didn’t want the world revolving around the theater, we wanted

the world revolving around our life as a family here."

"I like to keep their feet near to the ground,"she says. "That’s

a fantasy world there, it really is."

— Nicole Plett

The Prince and the Pauper, Lamb’s Theater, 130 West 44th

Street (between Sixth Avenue and Broadway), New York. Tickets $40

& $65. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.

Holiday schedule: Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2 and 7:30 p.m.;

Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Added holiday performances from now through January 3, 2003, include

Friday, November 29 at 2 p.m.


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