This article appeared in The Town Courier.
A Gaithersburg family’s Broadway adventure began with an email from a family friend. When Janice Becker learned that “School of Rock” would hold an open audition in Baltimore, she thought of Mikey and Sivan Sohn, talented siblings she had seen perform in Rachel Carson Elementary School’s variety show. She forwarded the notice to their parents.
The parents — Anat and Adam Sohn — allowed Mikey to decide whether to play in his travel soccer tournament or go his first audition. The fifth-grader chose to give the audition a shot, his father said. Although Sivan, age 7, was too young, the judges agreed to see her as well.
The outcome surprised the Sohns. “My wife and I were just hoping they would have a positive experience, but never expected them to be the only two kids we saw that morning come up from the audition room with a sheet of paper in their hand, what we later learned was referred to in show business as a ‘call back’ sheet,” Adam Sohn recalled.
Both children “did really well” at their “more intense” second auditions two weeks later, Sohn said. “A few days after the second audition, Mikey was asked to come to New York because they happened to have a pressing need for a kid that can play both piano and drums as well as sing, dance and act. Right place, right time, I guess!”
Less than a month from when rehearsals began, Mikey was “show ready” for his seven-month contract as a swing. That means he must “swing into” any of five roles in the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre. “Mikey needs to be able to sing, dance, position himself on stage and play any instrument needed for any of the roles he is called upon to play at a moment’s notice,” Sohn explained, adding that so far, his son has played three of the five roles, including Freddy the drummer in eight shows in less than four weeks, and was on stage 10 times in June.
During the run, the Sohns are staying in a small theater district apartment, with the adult Sohns taking turns returning to Maryland for work and to tend to the Lakelands house where they have lived for 11 years. In September, the children will attend schools in Manhattan.
The adult Sohns do not claim their children as chips off the old blocks. Anat, a speech therapist, once studied classical piano, and Adam, a marketing executive, taught himself to play drums, but both gave up those pursuits as teenagers.
Mikey’s affinity for music was initially misconstrued. As a preschooler, his father said, Mikey “was overly physical — not malicious, just always wanting to wrestle and use his hands. He was always banging on his high chair, banging forks on restaurant tables. Lots of noise!”
Since Mikey was too young for organized sports, his mother contended that music “is an excellent channel to help children refine social and communications skills” and the couple bought him a toy drum set in an effort “to give him a channel for all that energy.”
Mikey would hear a classic rock song in the car, recalled Sohn, “and ask me to play it over and over again until he memorized the beat, and then go home and play the song pretty darn well for a 3-year-old.” A year later, his grandfather turned him onto Elvis Presley, Sohn added, so Mikey began listening to the Elvis Sirius XM radio station in the car. He knew every word to even the lesser-known Elvis songs and felt free to sing them while in the shopping cart at Whole Foods.
There, Sohn said, “A woman approached my wife and said she was a professional singer and that Mikey would be singing on stage someday because his voice carried across the entire store. My wife was humiliated, but we never ever thought she would be right. We thought Mikey was just loud.”
Instrumental music lessons were a mixed bag. “Mikey took piano lessons for about three months, but his teacher stopped working with him since her style of teaching was different from his style of learning. She taught by notes and Mikey played by ear,” Sohn said. “Mikey taught himself drums, with some early help from his dad, but when he outgrew his dad’s ability to teach him, and Mikey could no longer get better on his own, we found a local musician that helped Mikey refine his drumming.”
Sivan, too, sang in the car — even before she was able to say many words, Sohn said. “She picked up melody before language.” Now she “knows the words to every pop song on Sirius XM Hits 1 and tends to pull out artists that have really distinctive voices like Halsey, Paloma Faith and Meghan Trainer.” Although she was too young at the audition, Sivan, Sohn added, “is now in their production system and could potentially be an upcoming cast member.”
Mikey categorizes his Broadway experience so far as “awesome!” His new friend Zachary Zwelling plays Zach, the show’s lead guitarist. The boys, Sohn said, “play music until late in the evening, sleep over and then wake up in the morning and play more music together.”
“Zach, an incredibly talented 11-year-old musician, has even taught Mikey the basics of blues piano. He’s also inspired Mikey to play guitar and, now that Zach’s taught Mikey all the major guitar chords, Mikey is well on his way to adding another instrument to his repertoire,” Sohn said.
As for the future, Sohn said, “Both kids really love music, but they’re not sure what they want to be when they’re all grown up. If pressed, Sivan would love to work with animals and Mikey really has an appetite for acting.”
And their parents’ opinion? “We are hardly stage parents and are having a hard time adjusting to all this. Like all parents, we want our kids to be healthy and happy. It’s hard for us to imagine that children have the ability to know exactly what they want for their adult future when they’re just little kids. We’re trying to keep an open mind, but we’re keeping them focused on school as the priority. Education will only open more options for them and music will enrich their lives.
Work originally brought the Sohns to the area. “As soon as we saw the Lakelands (in Gaithersburg), my wife and I loved it: plenty of activities for children, walkable, lots of parks, and a heck of a lot cleaner and newer than the parts of New York City where my wife and I grew up.” Post-Broadway adventure, Sohn said that the family plan is to return home.