- Associated Press - Sunday, September 27, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - Dan Silva was in a work meeting when his cellphone rang.

It was Julian, his son, calling from New York. His voice seemed flat.

“Poppy, my agent called,” Julian Silva, 12, told his father. “I guess they already picked somebody for the part.”

To Silva, the lack of affect in his son’s voice seemed odd. Julian was a talented actor who had already been in a national tour of Les Misérables. The Gibsonton boy had sung a pregame national anthem for the Tampa Bay Lighting and the University of South Florida. Sure, he had missed out on some parts, but he usually didn’t get this depressed about it.

Now he had tried out for a role on Broadway, the youthful incarnation of Simba, the title role in The Lion King. Getting the opportunity was a breakthrough in itself.

He was about to say that when his son broke the silence.

“And the person they picked was me!” Julian said.

Dan and Maria Silva are not stage parents.

At least, they never set out to be. Julian, who is to make his debut on Broadway on Sept. 22, started singing at age 3. At 5, he had mastered a song picked up by ear from the operatic crossover group, Il Divo.

Not only was the boy singing a soulful rendition of a love song, he was demonstrating some serious pipes when he did it.

But where did he get them? Since neither of his parents sing, this was a mystery.

“I can’t really attribute it to anybody,” said Dan, 42.

“We figured that a kid 5 years old doesn’t start out in opera,” said Maria, 48. “We said, ‘OK, we’ll try to get him some voice lessons.’ “

The family raised their young son in Plant City and Brandon. By age 6, Julian had a voice teacher and was starting homeschooling, a choice both parents said they made in part due to their Christian convictions. Julian learned ahead of his grade level. His parents decided they needed to do even more for his voice.

When he was 7, Julian’s parents enrolled him in Music Showcase, a Brandon music store that is also home to the Florida Academy of Performing Arts.

“He was adorable,” Music Showcase theater director Joy Rodgers told the Times in 2013. “He never appeared nervous. He was a happy, secure little boy. He was at ease on stage. He totally immersed himself in the character.”

He was cast in the academy’s production of Aladdin, then in a high school production of Les Misérables. He played Gavroche, an abandoned street urchin.

Julian also played tee-ball and computer games. He studied with his mother, then a United Airlines flight attendant, and online. In his spare time he played with Zeus and Prince, the family’s Great Danes, and Goliath, their chihuahua.

The roles kept coming.

In 2013, Julian appeared in a national commercial for Duck Dynasty. He also won the title of best overall child singer in the national Actors, Models and Talent for Christ contest. Then the biggest break yet: Julian was again cast as Gavroche, this time in the 25th anniversary national tour of Les Misérables.

“We were given less than a month to get up and go and meet the cast in another city,” said Maria. “So we were kind of like, ‘Okay, it’s a great opportunity for him.’ He wanted to do it so we just allowed him to do it.”

Now with a professional cast, Julian had directors who pushed him.

“So basically at 9 years old they treated him like a professional,” his mother said.

He was challenged to try new things and to make the Gavroche his own, then given frank feedback over whatever he tried.

With each new city, the family routines kept up a certain rhythm - the first rehearsal on Tuesday, laundry on Saturdays, leaving town on Monday.

In between, Dan researched the new city to find hospitals that Julian could visit. He talked to children who had cancer and brain injuries or had been in car crashes.

“We treated it like a mission,” Maria said. “It took our eyes off of the big production itself. We shifted our eyes to what was going on around us. Like the real world out there, not just a stage.”

When the tour ended, the family resettled in Hillsborough, this time in Gibsonton. Julian continued to do well in school and is now in the eighth grade. He enjoys computer games and is three belt stripes away from a black belt in karate, his mother said.

This summer, his agent told the family that The Lion King was auditioning again. As with the touring show, the part of the young Simba would be played on alternating days by two boys (with Jahi Diallo Winston in the Broadway cast).

After Julian got the part, the decision to move seemed clear, if not entirely simple.

On Aug. 23, Julian and his mother moved into an apartment in New York City, a few blocks from the Minskoff Theatre where The Lion King is playing. His father is following, transferring his job with Home Depot to New York.

In a phone interview, Julian said that New York is “very fast-moving.”

“There are a lot of things going on around you, and you’ve got to really learn to dodge people because people don’t care here,” he said. But he is liking rehearsals with the cast and looking forward to playing Simba for the first time on Sept. 22.

Making the permanent move to New York meant saying goodbye to the dogs, at least for now. They are being cared for by relatives in Hillsborough.

“It’s sad but they are in good hands,” Julian said. “I do miss them, but at the same time I am happy here. I know they are being well taken care of.”

He said he is continuing to grow as an actor and might want to go into film.

“You can put some of your thought into it,” he said. “You take your personality, combine it with your character’s personality and make something better.”

___

Information from: Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.), https://www.tampabay.com.


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