By David Miller
It’s not every day a parent has to decide if her 9-year-old child can handle a full-time job in New York City.
For University of Alabama researcher Jamie Mills, there was some trepidation when she learned her daughter, Madalen Yarbrough Mills, was selected to play “Sophie” in the Broadway adaptation of the Jack Black movie, “School of Rock.”
Could she handle the rigor of performing eight shows five days a week? Could she balance schoolwork, rehearsals and performances? Could she remain focused on the production without dreaming of future roles?
“I do wonder if it’s too much,” said Jamie, associate professor of educational research at UA. “You never know how things will turn out, but I know my child, and this show fits her personality and the energy she has – it’s the best production on Broadway for children.”
Jamie and her family were excited for Madalen’s Broadway debut last month. A select group of family members, some of whom live in New York, play important roles in Madalen’s support crew, Jamie said.
“We’re still trying figure it out, but a big solution has been grandparents,” Jamie said. “For all of us here that are in this production, this is their first real big Broadway production, being far from home. We can’t quit our jobs, so we’re trying to figure out a system, but for the most part, my family in New York, grandparents and her father, Jon (Yarbrough), and his parents all help.”
Much like how she emailed an audition reel that landed Madalen the role, Jamie will rely on technology to continue working while in New York City. Jamie will teach online and hybrid courses this semester, which will include a mix of remote and on-campus meetings. Jamie will also home-school Madalen during their stay in New York City.
“I don’t know if I’d be able to do this without teaching in this alternative format,” Jamie said.
Madalen’s first Broadway performance comes after lead roles in school and Tuscaloosa-area productions, and a national tour of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical.”
Madalen began her theater training at Kindermusik, the UA School of Music’s community music school.
For some parents who support their children through travel sports or performing arts, there’s a moment when they realize their child has potential beyond their peers. For Jamie, this revelation wasn’t a single production or a particular role. Rather, it was at a Diana Ross concert two years ago, when Ross brought Madalen onstage to sing and dance to one of her songs.
“It really opened my eyes when she was on stage with Diana Ross – I’d never do something like that – in front of the entire BJCC (Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center),” Jamie said. “She’d just turned 7. Before that, she’d done some performance at summer camps, Christmas performances in school, and that’s how she felt comfortable standing and performing in front of people.
“I know my daughter is talented, but I see a lot of talented kids everywhere she performs. All the stars have to line up. It has to be the right show for the right height, right size and weight. I always thought it was possible, but you don’t think it’s going to happen until it happens.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.