It can be tough making decisions when you are still a pup and in two smash Broadway shows at the same time. For example, which softball team do you play for? Braden Danner, 11, is a cast member of both Starlight Express and Les Misérables and wanted to be on both teams, but he settled on being a designated hitter for Les Miz, as the show is nicknamed. Then there’s the matter of curtain calls. Usually he skips the Starlight applause, but on its last night of previews he made his bows in Les Miz (which had already opened), switched clothes and hoofed it two blocks from the Broadway Theatre to the Gershwin in just over a minute, surely a theater record of some kind.
Braden does not actually appear in both musicals. He is the recorded child narrator who is heard through most of Starlight, the roller-skating extravaganza, and in Les Miz he plays a street urchin, Gavroche, who dies heroically on the barricades. The dual roles are probably another first but neither one was his Broadway debut. Back in Indianapolis, Braden saw his first play, Oliver!, at age 7, thought acting looked like fun and bugged his mother to take him to an audition for a local production of The Sound of Music. He didn’t get a part and “was so scared I swore I’d never go back,” he says. Three months later, recovered, he won a role in The Music Man locally. He was spotted by agent Nancy Carson, who urged him to try out for Nine, which brought him and his mother, Cheryl, to New York. He has since appeared in Oliver!, on TV in As the World Turns (“I got some fan letters from girls”) and in commercials for Kool-Aid and Fisher-Price toys. Braden lives on Roosevelt Island with his mom, now divorced, and two sisters, Diane, 17 (“She’s sick of hearing about the show”), and Demaree, 5.
Braden taped his narration for Starlight Express in January and even managed to make a small contribution to the writing. “In England they wrote it as English people speak, but instead of ‘calm down’ or ‘cool off’ I suggested ‘take a chill pill,’ because that’s how I would speak,” he says. “That’s what they put in.” He likes roller-skating, but he is the only member of the cast who doesn’t do any onstage. In Les Miz, he rarely stops moving, even in his death scene. As he lies shot and dying, he tries to throw a bag of bullets to his fellow French revolutionaries. His aim doesn’t usually matter much, but once, in Washington, D.C. the bag landed in the front row. “The guy kept it as a souvenir,” he says. “I couldn’t stop laughing right before I died.”
Braden spends what spare time he has listening to tapes (“Lionel Richie stuff. Rap music gives me headaches”) and reading. “When I read, I really get into it,” he says. “I won’t eat, I won’t sleep until the book is finished. No way have I read Les Misérables. If I got hooked on that, I’d starve to death.”