On Broadway, kids find pay commensurate with size

Last updated 09:45 13/02/2013
Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown
CHILD STAR: Lilla Crawford and Sunny as Annie and Sandy in “Annie” on Broadway.

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Broadway is somewhere between a hard-knock life and easy street for the child performers crowding New York stages this season. Same goes for their non- human co-stars.

Lilla Crawford earns US$3000 ($3571) a week playing the title role of the US$12-million Broadway  revival of "Annie." Sunny and Casey, the two terrier mixes who alternate as Sandy, are each paid US$1770 a week.

While Lilla may be Broadway's best-paid minor, her two adult co-stars earn more than three times her salary, US$10,000 a week, according to a preliminary production budget obtained from the office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman via the Freedom of Information Law.

"Most of these kids would do it for free," said David Doan, an agent who represents 10 children on Broadway. "With adults, it's their livelihood. With kids, it's a hobby."

In the case of "Annie," at least the first half of that is true: Katie Finneran had won two Tony Awards before becoming the ogress of the orphanage, Miss Hannigan. Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks is played by Anthony Warlow, a seasoned opera and musical-theatre star in Australia. (None of the stars, however, has as much value as the title "Annie" on the marquee.)

"Annie" will soon be doing battle with "Matilda" for the title of top girl on Broadway.

The show, a smash hit in London, is adapted from the Roald Dahl novel about a 5-year-old who outsmarts her idiot elders with the help of a cunning intelligence and, oh yes, telekinetic powers.

The four girls alternating in the title role will earn the Broadway weekly minimum of about US$2000, according to a person familiar with the production.

That includes an extra US$20 weekly for "extraordinary risk," which in "Matilda" involves singing while on a moving swing.

"Annie" and "Matilda" together employ about two dozen children. Young actors are also in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "Mary Poppins," "The Lion King," "Once," "Newsies" and "The Mystery of Edwin Drood."

Each of the four Matildas will perform at least twice a week. The "Annie" orphans earn about the same for going on eight shows a week, according to its budget.

"I think the pay could be greater with all they're giving up," said Lisa Calli, a manager specialising in juvenile actors. "In these shows, the kids are really working hard."

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Spokesmen for the producers of "Annie" and "Matilda" declined to comment on compensation.

Michael Shulman, 31, a television and film producer who grew up in Manhattan, said performing in "Les Miserables" as a teenager helped him save money for college and get admitted to Yale University.

"People look back with incredible fondness," he said of the experience.

Calli shuttled her son, Luka, now 13, to and from the Vivian Beaumont Theater eight times a week for the revival of "South Pacific."

"It's a job for the parents, but the kids love it," she said.

New York's professional young actors out-earn their British counterparts. West End Matildas, who go on at least twice a week, are paid about £250 (NZ$465), London's Sunday Times reported. West End children earn half the adult minimum, per an agreement negotiated by their union, British Equity.

That's considerably less than Broadway's mutts, though they come with unusual expenses.

"It's terribly deceiving," veteran animal trainer Bill Berloni said of those figures. Producers "will turn to me and say you're one of the best-paid actors on staff. But I'm a department."

Berloni, of Haddam, Conn., rents a US$3000-a- month apartment in Washington Heights for Sunny, Casey and their handler. Berloni and his dogs aren't union members so he must negotiate each contract from scratch. He said he spent US$20,000 negotiating the fees for "Annie."

Three recent Broadway revivals - "Anything Goes," "Gypsy" and "The Miracle Worker" - excised canine roles to save money, Berloni said. "Legally Blonde," which closed in 2008, was his last Broadway musical.

He and his wife, Dorothy, care for two dozen rescue dogs from prior shows, including two bulldogs from 2012's "A Christmas Story."

"When the recession hit, we were the first thing to go," Berloni said of animal roles. "It's getting tougher and tougher to make ends meet."

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