Hana Woo, 9, is taking her recently discovered talent for musical theatre to the big stage this month. The West Wellington resident is appearing in the National Arts Centre English Theatre production of The Sound of Music as one of two Ottawa actors playing Gretl, the musical’s youngest character.
It’s a new experience for Hana, but one that she nearly missed out on. Mom Suzanne Woo says the family was on a two-month trip in Southeast Asia and Australia this spring when the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama, where Hana had taken a musical theatre class, left a phone message saying they wanted to recommend Hana for a closed audition for the NAC production. The family discovered the message when they got home and Suzanne returned the call in time.
“I asked them what the production was and they said The Sound of Music, and that’s Hana’s absolute all-time favourite musical. So I thought, well I definitely can’t say no to that,” says Suzanne.
Hana auditioned with a song, Edelweiss, from The Sound of Music, and a poem. A few weeks later, the call came that she’d been selected for the part.
“I was getting ready to go play soccer,” recalls Hana. “I had one shoe on, then mommy told me, and I started dancing around the room.”
“When we got the call, actually, I was pretty surprised,” says Suzanne. Hana, who studies piano and violin and has sung at piano recitals, hasn’t taken any formal singing or acting lessons other than the musical theatre class, although Hana points out that she and her brother Toshio, 7, used to entertain their family with made-up plays and songs.
In The Sound of Music, Hana acts, sings and dances, and has several speaking lines. She says playing a five-year-old is “a little weird,” but she’s enjoying the role.
Preparing for the performances entailed three weeks of 28-hour-a-week rehearsals, from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. after school every day and another eight hours on Saturdays. Suzanne explains that their extended family, as well as Hana’s Grade 4 teachers at Elmdale Public School, have all been supportive.
“It’s pretty awesome,” says Hana of the experience. “I’m really excited – I’m kind of bouncy off the walls sometimes.”
It’s a big deal for Hana’s family, too. Her paternal grandparents are coming from Hong Kong – Hana says her grandfather shares her love of The Sound of Music – and her maternal grandparents will arrive from Vancouver to see the show. Other family from California and Ontario, as well as friends, schoolmates and teachers, also plan to attend.
Joey Tremblay, The Sound of Music director, says four Ottawa children were cast in the roles of the musical’s two youngest characters, Gretl, 5 and Marta, 7, while the older children are played by adults from the NAC English Theatre’s professional 2013-14 Ensemble cast. The four girls, who are paid, were chosen from about 40 who auditioned.
The Sound of Music runs December 3 to January 4. For ticket information go to www.nac-cna.ca.