‘Little Thriller’
Boy living in Secaucus headlines Motown musical as young Michael Jackson
by Joseph Passantino
Reporter staff writer
Oct 06, 2013 | 7511 views | 0 0 comments | 148 148 recommendations | email to a friend | print
YOUNG MICHAEL – Darius Kaleb, currently living in Secaucus, plays the role of an up-and-coming Michael Jackson in the Broadway show, “Motown, the Musical.”
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For 10-year-old Darius Kaleb, every day is a song and a dance – literally.

That’s because the Secaucus resident goes into New York City several times a week to do something few children his age can do: perform in a Broadway musical.

Not only that, Darius plays the Prince of Pop, Michael Jackson, in the Great White Way production, “Motown, the Musical” at the Lunt Fontanne Theater.

Getting this plum assignment was no walk in the park. Darius was selected after a nationwide search involving thousands.

In the production, Darius plays a young Jackson, a young Berry Gordy Jr. (Motown Records founder), and a young Stevie Wonder. Most of the time on stage, he is singing and dancing. In fact, he performs seven songs, six of them MJ tunes, including the classics, “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” and “I’ll Be There.”

MJ productions

This isn’t the first time Darius has portrayed Jackson in a live show. He also performed in Japan in “Thriller Live/World Tour.” Darius’s high stepping in “Thriller” included the moonwalk and the “lean in” of “Smooth Criminal.” He loves doing the “lean in,” but won’t give up the secret.

“He got to be the first kid ever to do the ‘lean’ on the tour,” said his mom, Denise Harris, “and we’re just ecstatic.”

No training

Harris, of course, is proud as a peacock. But her son’s success doesn’t surprise her.

He has no formal training but comes from a musically talented family, with his older twin brothers, Robert and Ryan, 20, once cast together as a young Simba in “The Lion King.” His great grandfather was also an actor in the 1960s.

Liking Secaucus

Though Darius and his family reside in Charles County, Md., he and his mother have been living in Secaucus during his musical run because of its accessibility to New York City. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t gotten involved in the town, enjoying recreational activities and volunteering his time for a town fundraiser for families displaced by fires.

Does Darius think he’s a star yet?

“Not yet, but there’s a billboard in Times Square waiting for me,” he joked.

Timeless show

For now, Darius must split his role with another actor because of child labor guidelines. And in a short time soon, his job will be over because of how fast children his age grow, and can be replaced. But his family thinks “Motown, the Musical” is ageless.

“The show probably is going to run for a long time, because it brings people back to where they were in history,” Harris said.

Enjoying the life

So for now, Darius is enjoying the experience of a lifetime, and relishing it greatly. First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters came to see the show. So did actor Denzel Washington and television personality Star Jones.

Darius got to talk with musician Melba Moore and former N.Y. Knick Walt Frazier. He also was introduced to Gordy and Diana Ross, “and a whole lot of Motown artists.”

“There’ve been so many people that he’s had the opportunity to meet,” Harris said.

Enjoying kid things

Darius spends his downtime rooting for his favorite sports teams, the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Lakers.

“I like to play basketball and football,” he said. “I like to watch football at home.”

He even found time recently for a brief, impromptu one-on-one hoop match up with Mayor Michael Gonnelli at the newly renovated Buchmuller Park.

For Harris, Secaucus has always been kind of a second home.
“It brings people back to where they were in history.”– Denise Harris
“When I was younger, we used to always come to Secaucus for the outlets,” she said. “When my older kids had auditions, we would always come and stay in Secaucus, because it was close to the city. I always loved this area.”

Darius and his mom got to meet by Gonnelli by chance, visiting Town Hall for a parking permit, and inquiring about the mayor’s availability for a photo.

“We were hoping he would be gracious enough to take a picture with us,” Harris said. Instead, they got more than they bargained for, with his assistant setting up a time for mother and son to come back to meet and spend time with Gonnelli.

“He’s been so gracious,” she said. “He’s very helpful. Darius calls him ‘the coolest mayor.’ ”

Team effort

Keeping a child on time for his Broadway performances while caring for your abode two states away is done with flexibility and cooperation, according to Harris, and Darius’ dad, Robert, is the other half of that important equation.

“He has been very supportive in Darius’ career,” she said. “He stays behind to deal with maintaining the home. Plus, he comes back and forth to see the performances.”

More to come

But this won’t be the last time people see Darius performing, according to his mother.

“He has something we just got contacted about, but I want to wait until we get the word” before discussing it, Harris said.

Getting paid and gaining fame are great, but for Darius, the importance of his performances boil down to how they make him feel.

“Seeing the audience smiling – it’s awesome,” he said.

Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.

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