Doctor Zhivago's Four Young Stars Add Some Revelry to Revolutionary Russia
Before auditioning for the show, Doctor Zhivago's four young stars were all relatively unaware of the story behind Boris Pasternak's classic novel — as 10- and 11-year-olds typically are. Though 10- and 11-year-olds are not typically entering their second or third Broadway productions, as three members of this fierce foursome are currently doing.
Jonah Halperin (Kinky Boots, Matilda) takes on his third Broadway role as Young Yurii Zhivago and Sasha, Ava-Riley Miles (Evita) takes on her second as Young Tonia, and Tony honoree Sophia Gennusa (the oldest of the group at age 11) returns to the stage as Katarina and Young Lara after originating the title role in Matilda in 2013. Only Ashley Brooke, who swings Miles, Gennusa, and Halperin's roles, is treading the boards of the Great White Way for the first time, though her new castmates couldn't be more thrilled to welcome her to the Broadway club.
After an enthusiastic photo shoot, orchestrated entirely by this energetic quartet, we congregated on the floor of the Broadway Theatre's lower lobby to chat about this brand-new musical. While the Zhivago kids don't make it easy to get a word in edgewise, their lightning-fast exchanges made for an entertaining gabfest filled with backstage anecdotes, top-notch bickering, and some surprisingly sage words of wisdom.
How did each of you find out you got these parts?
Ashley: My parents broke the news. I was coming home from dance and they said, "Which place do you want to go to dinner?" and I said Kona Grill. So when we got there, my mom and dad took out their phones and started videotaping me and they were like, "You're making your Broadway debut!" Then the waitress came out and gave me this brownie that said "Congratulations!"
Ava-Riley: I have a fun story too. Once a year, my family has "Holiday Day" where we all get together and bake cookies and watch Christmas movies. It was that day, and we were watching The Grinch…
Sophia: I love that movie…
Ava-Riley: …and my mom comes in with a huge box and she said, "Someone says that you need to open this immediately."…I just went ahead and opened the box and there were big balloons and at the bottom of the stack of the balloons was the Doctor Zhivago book. And I was like, "That's weird, what crazy person would send me this? I haven't gotten it yet." And then they were like, "You got it!" and then I started crying. And it's all on tape.
Sophia: It was a normal day for me. I was coming home from school and I was just like on the bed eating chips or something and my mom came in crying and I'm like, "Mom, what?" And she's like "Someone's on the phone for you" [sobbing]. It was my agent and he was like, "So you know how you auditioned for Doctor Zhivago? You got it!" And I was like, "Ahhhhh!" But my dad wasn't there, so when I called him he was like, "Broadway? Are you sure?" I was like, "Yes! That's what it is!" Then he started crying on the phone.
Jonah: Mine's the weirdest, I would say. I was on vacation and my mom and my dad dragged me into the bathroom because my sister was in the other room and they didn't want her to get jealous. So I went in and then they were like, "Remember Doctor Zhivago? You got it!" And I was like, "Oh boy."
Did any of you know anything about Doctor Zhivago before your auditions?
Ava-Riley: No idea. I went to the open call for Doctor Zhivago because I was up here for other auditions and I saw a friend who was like, "Yeah, I'm here auditioning for Doctor Whatsitsname."
Sophia: I didn't really know what the story was about, but I've heard a lot of people like talking about the movie. A lot of my aunts and uncles, they've all seen the movie and they love it.
Ava-Riley: I didn't want to see the movie because I wasn't sure what it was about. I watched a ton of trailers and I was like, "OK." It's PG-13 or something.
Jonah: [looking horrified] It's gory.
What's your favorite part of the musical?
Ashley: I'd say it's listening to the music because it's so beautiful.
Sophia: We just had the sitzprobe (orchestra rehearsal), and it was just, oh my God…
Ava-Riley: So amazing.
Sophia: The music…It's just so beautiful. Even a lot of the grownups, they started crying when Kelli Barrett and Tam Mutu were singing. I love those two. I don't really think this is a kid's show…but it's such a touching thing and when you're behind the scenes, you get to see how beautiful it can be, even though it's so sad.
Jonah, how do you like being the only boy in this crew?
Jonah: Actually, there are a couple advantages. For a start, I get my own dressing room…
[girls all sigh]
Sophia: Oh my God, he goes on and on about his dressing room! I brought in pretzels once and he says, "Pretzels are a no-no."
Ava-Riley: He won't let us eat anything in his dressing room!
Ashley: He says that his Oreo bars are not messy but when I break them, all of the [crumbs] come down onto the carpet.
Does Tam Mutu (your adult counterpart) help you channel your inner Yurii Zhivago?
Jonah: He once made me wear a mustache. He has an amazing sense of humor.
Ashley: Every time I'm with Tam he'll stick out his tongue and I'll stick out my tongue and then he'll stick out his tongue and it'll go on and on.
Sophia: He gives me nuggies.
It sounds like all of you have fun together.
All: We love each other!
Sophia: The worst thing is not getting along with people who you have to work with. I love spending time with them. I'd kind of be lonely if I was the only kid. Jonah brings so much happiness, and Ava-Riley, and Ashley — Don't let me get started on Ashley! [laughs] This is the beginning of a lifelong friendship!
If you could give one piece of advice to other kids who want to be on Broadway, what would it be?
Ava-Riley: If you don't dream big, big things will never happen to you.
Sophia: Don't ever let anybody dim your light.
Ashley: If you're not in the game, you won't get it.
Jonah: Acting is not acting — acting is doing.
Sophia: Wow, Jonah.