Talented eighth-grader Cameron Klein lends his voice and works hard for his dream.
By Stacy Gittleman
Photos courtesy of Catalyst Media Factory
To say that eighth-grader Cameron Klein has spare time would be a stretch. Outside of his workload at Hillel Day School, he spends his afternoons, evenings and some parts of the weekend honing his talents for the stage in hopes of someday making it on Broadway.
Oh, and about that spare time? You can bet he’s plugged in on his earbuds listening to a Broadway musical soundtrack on Spotify. His current favorites: Mean Girls and Dear Evan Hanson and, for a classic, West Side Story.
It was Cameron’s vocal talents that led him to squeeze in another project on his crowded schedule and collaborate with local songwriter and author Andy Gutman. Gutman, composer of more than 300 musical pieces, had just written a children’s song and an accompanying book What Can I Be Today? (2018, Gutcheck Music) told through the character of a caterpillar.
Gutman introduced this song/book concept to fellow singer/songwriter Alena Kourkouliocis, who happened to be Klein’s dance teacher. She suggested Cameron sing Charlie the Caterpillar’s song.
Shortly after, Gutman and Cameron met and made their way to the recording studio. Though he is the youngest singer with whom Gutman has ever worked, Gutman admires his advanced maturity and professionalism.
“Not only is Cameron talented and capable, but he is a genuine young man,” Gutman said. “We put him in the studio in a week and the recording was ready to go just in time for my book to come out. He is an incredible talent.”
This is Gutman’s fourth children’s book. The profits of the sales of the song and book will be donated to children’s literacy programs such as Brilliant Detroit, Beyond Basics and Project Night Night.
Gutman, a Temple Israel member who has served as a BBYO adviser, plans to create a children’s musical out of this current project and his previous books and songs. He hopes Charlie the Caterpillar will inspire young children to read and explore their own ambitions.
As for Cameron’s ambitions, every day is one step closer to the Great White Way. But, for now, he enjoys sporadic singing in a band he put together with some friends from an overnight performing arts camp, and training between 15-20 hours a week on his dancing skills, including jazz, hip hop, ballet and tap.
Though he is known at school for his singing, he tends to keep his dancing under the radar. But as any male dancer will tell you, the training involved can be just as or more rigorous than for conventional athletics.
“Boy dancers should be treated the same as any other athlete,” Cameron said. “It’s not for wimps.”
Indeed, to train to be a male dancer one must have the strength and ability to lift a woman partner over one’s head and make it look effortless. That means Cameron has enrolled in two-hour strength-training sessions. That’s outside his dance studio, where he can spend up to 20 hours per week.
Cameron’s mother, Lisa Klein of West Bloomfield, said she supports her son’s dream and admires his dancing pursuits even though she knows most theatergoers rarely think about the training it takes to make it on stage.
“People get excited about plays and musicals, but they often do not think about or appreciate the level of physical conditioning and training required of male dancers — they have to be athletes,” Lisa said. “Often kids make a big deal (or tease) when a boy in high school dances, but those boys may end up as backup dancers for Bruno Mars or become the next Bruno himself! What everyone needs to realize is that those men who are dancing on big stages were once the boys who danced in their high school musicals.”
Cameron has been pursuing theater since preschool when he enrolled in Pint-Sized Playhouse classes at Franklin Athletic Club. Since then he has had roles in dozens of productions including The Music Man, Mary Poppins, Pinocchio, Tarzan, Charlotte’s Web and Aladdin.
He’s also an active member of temple Israel’s Teen T’fillah Team. In recent years, he put his singing and dancing skills to use as a select performer for temple’s annual Purim shpiel (see a video of him from this year at thejewishnews.com). His mom says Cantors Neil Michaels and Michael Smolash have been wonderful teachers and mentors.
Geographically and professionally, Broadway is still a while away. Parents Jason and Lisa want their children, Cameron and Brady, to have normal childhoods.
“We admire his passion, but we don’t live in New York and we want to remain a family unit as long as possible [instead of looking for entertainment opportunities requiring travel or relocation],” Lisa said. “When he is older, he can make that decision to go for it.”
Someday, Cameron would like to land a role in a big dancing production such as Newsies or Dear Evan Hansen. But right now, he’s sticking to school and striving to get better with every dance combination and vocal run.
“I know that pursuing musical theater is not your typical path to a career,” Cameron said. “But you have to love what you are doing. And though I know it will be challenging, when you are down you always have to get right back up because in the show business industry, you have to persevere and never give up.”
To hear Cameron singing Charlie the Caterpillar’s song, go to bit.ly/2CxM7Dj.
For a video of Cameron singing for Purim, click here: Cameron Klein Purim Spiel