Broadway actor Tony Yazbeck and actress Sydney Lucas have a lot more in common than each earning 2015 Tony Award nominations for On the Town and Fun Home, respectively. He’s a musical theater veteran, she’s a newcomer — yet both made their Broadway debuts at the young age of 11, joining a long roster of actors including Ariana Grande, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Lea Michele, all of whom grew up with an education that only the theater can provide.
With eight Broadway credits to his name, including Al in A Chorus Line and Phil Davis in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, triple threat Yazbeck, 36, says his destiny of being a performer stems from long before he actually set foot on an actual stage.
“When I was 4 years old, I used to watch Fred Astaire on television in films like Swing Time or Shall We Dance,” Yazbeck explains. “I danced all over my living room — and my parents saw me and threw me right into dance class!”
As a kid, Yazbeck says, he always had the itch to perform in front of an audience. When he was 11 years old, he auditioned for a replacement track for the 1989 revival of Gypsy starring Tyne Daly as Rose.
“The requirements for the audition were you had to sing, play clarinet, and tap,” says Yazbeck. “I auditioned on stage at the St. James Theatre and was told right then and there that I got the part and had to start in two days.”
He would then perform in the revival for about two years, commuting back and forth from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania — about a 90-minute car ride with his Mom.
“I had an agreement with the school system: I went to two classes on Wednesdays, and my Mom picked me up and zoomed to New York,” Yazbeck explains. “We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and my Mom was like a disciplinarian. I never missed a show. In fact, one time our car broke down on the side of road right as we were about to go into the Lincoln Tunnel and my mom said, ‘Get out and run!’ My 11-year-old self ran!” He continues, “I ended up knocking on the door of a bus — and screamed, and the bus driver took me into the city and to my theatre, and I made my show.”
Yazbeck, who’s become one of Broadway’s most notable song-and-dance men, would later go on to return to yet another production of Gypsy — this time also at the St. James, playing Tulsa in the 2008 Patti LuPone revival.
To Yazbeck, performing professionally at an early age gave him a head start and eventually prepared him for his Tony-nominated role as Gabey in the current revival of On the Town. He also says his “showbiz” education had a downside:
“I feel like I missed out on a lot of things just because of my work ethic: I loved soccer and I remember that getting pulled away from me. I had to put my full attention into theater. I really wanted to be a singer-actor-dancer and that’s a hard thing for a kid. You’re sort of sacrificing a lot of your childhood.”
The Lucas family knows all too well what sacrifice is all about. When Sydney Lucas is performing as Alison, a young lesbian coming into her own, in Fun Home, her older brother, Jake, is just up the street performing in The King and I at Lincoln Center. He plays the son of Tony winner Kelli O’Hara’s Anna in the 2015 revival.
A “typical” day in the life of Sydney Lucas “all depends what I have on,” the precocious and sophisticated 11-year-old explains. “Like, if I’m being called for luncheons or to do press for my show.” Otherwise, “I wake up, go to school, eat a combination of lunch/dinner, get to my theatre, brush my teeth and warm up, do the show, greet my fans.” Then, she continues, “my dad picks me up, and we go to my brother’s show, we wait for him, and then take our guardians home, and then we get to our apartment a little after midnight.”
Ed and Kari Lucas — the siblings’ parents — have rearranged their lives to support Sydney’s and Jake’s dreams and passions.
“The education they are getting is amazing. For them to be performing with these world-class performers — there’s nothing like it,” Kari explains.
As for concern? “What I’m worried about is when they go back to school. They’re not going to be experiencing the same level of performers in their class shows. That’s the challenge, really, right now: Where do you go from here? When you’re used to performing with these top-notch performers, where do you go?”
As for Sydney, getting to star opposite multiple Tony winner Michael Cerveris and hang with entertainment legends and 2015 Tony classmates Chita Rivera and Helen Mirren is only the beginning of what she hopes to be a long and fruitful career.
“This is my dream and I’m living my dream,” she says. “I want to do this for the rest of my life — it’s what I sleep and breathe. I want to be the next Meryl Streep.”
Frank DiLella is an entertainment reporter/producer for Time Warner Cable’s NY1 News.