GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Glen Ridge High School sophomore James Lee Anderson will be performing in “New Voices,” the annual summertime presentation by Paper Mill Playhouse Music Conservatory students. Each year, the show has a theme and this year it is “Sea to Shining Sea,” a celebration of Broadway musicals. Songs selected come from “Hamilton,” “On the Town,” and “Newsies,” among other popular shows.
In a local coffee shop, James, 14, who is a “Junior-Plus” conservatory member, said “New Voices” rehearsals were to begin this week so he did not know yet what songs he would be singing. But looking back, he had quite a resume.
James was born in NYC and moved to Westchester, then to Bloomfield and then over to Glen Ridge. His father’s work got him to Hong Kong. He came back to Glen Ridge and now lives in the same house as before. His parents had rented it out for three years.
He was 8-years-old for his first performance. It was in a skit put on by his homeroom class at Hong Kong International. The teacher pulled aside his mother, Lisa, and told her that she saw some talent in James and he should be given lessons. He attended the Faust Acting School for one year. James was also in the school choir at Hong Kong International. The choir instructor also suggested training and told his mother that he should take singing lessons.
“It’s cool that adults recognized me, especially at that age,” James said.
But the acting bug did not bite for another three years. That was when he was in a musical. The cast rehearsed for one week and two performances were given. His mother said after that, her son begged her to sign him up for the Gas Lamp Players.
“I feel I found a love for musicals and I became friends with a lot of the kids there,” James said. “It felt right.”
He has appeared in about 15 Gas Lamp productions, including “Oliver,” where he played the Artful Dodger, and “Hairspray,” where he played a council member. He also performed in a musical called “13.” He played the leading role of Evan.
“It was a pretty realistic show,” he said. “It’s about all the cliques being made and Evan, the main character. He just moved into town and he’s trying to get people to go to his bar mitzvah.”
But Evan fails at his attempt to garner false friends just to appear popular.
“At the end, he learns about friendship,” James said. “He learns that real friendship is more important than trying to get friends.”
In NYC, he gave two performances in a musical called “Miscast.” James said songs from various musical were sung, but the person singing did not share the same gender or race as the character for whom the song was written.
After “New Voices,” James will hit the road, so to speak. He is going to an acting camp for three weeks. He has attended this camp three times before and said about 300 acting students are accepted. They are split up and put on a dozen shows.
“They don’t tell you the shows until after you audition,” he said.
But James knows what part he would like to play if given the chance. It would be the part of Chip, the Boy Scout, in the musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”“I just like the flow of that show and the music,” he said. “It’s hard to explain.”
James also liked that audience members get to join the cast on stage as spelling bee contestants.
This part of the show is especially funny because the people called up are given very difficult words to spell, or non-existent words, or they are disqualified even when they spell the word correctly. But everyone is in on the joke because the show must go on. James said he liked the character of Chip and he did not think the other characters fit him. Chip is not the leading role in “Spelling Bee.”
James said he was very grateful to Gas Lamp director Kristy Graves, with whom he has been taking voice lessons for four years. He plans to try out for the GRHS Drama Club this year.
James said that the music conservatory at the Paper Mill Playhouse has taught him how to strengthen his voice. He credits Matt Lowy with teaching him techniques to support his voice from his diaphragm. James said when a person sings from their throat, they can see their throat tense.
In school, he said his favorite subjects are mathematics and Chinese.
“My Chinese is pretty good,” he said. “I was l
earning it in Hong Kong. When I came back, I went to Verona High School where they had a class.”
Chinese is also taught at GRHS.
James also plays the drums and attends the School of Rock, in Montclair.
“It was the most random thing, but I was wondering what famous person had their birthday on my birthday.”
James found out that he and dummer Ringo Starr were both born on July 7.
Auditions for parts in the upcoming “New Voice” show will be this week.
“Hopefully, I’ll get a part,” he said.
His mother, Lisa, who joined him at the table said she was proud of her son and and he puts in the time and has a passion.
“Growing up, a lot of kids didn’t find their passion so early,” she said. “I didn’t. It makes him happy. After a rehearsal, he just glows.”
Lisa, who is on the board of directors for the Gas Lamp Players, said she and her husband, Ed, were fortunate that they live in an area that has many opportunities for their son to develop his craft.
James said he was grateful to his parents for their support.
Because of construction at the Paper Mill Playhouse, “New Voices” will be presented at Montclair State University on Friday, July 27, at 7:30 p.m., and on Saturday, July 28, at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct James’ name.