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12/20/04

"Attending the Progressive School of Long Island for five years, he became involved with theater, skits and revues. And to the surprise of his mom, the appeal of performing took root in the boy."

10-year-old with ties to New Bedford plays Simba in Broadway musical 
By David B. Boyce, Standard-Times correspondent

Alexio Barboza, a grandson of Anthony Barboza Sr. of New Bedford, is in the middle of a six-month run as the young Simba in "The Lion King," in Manhattan. Just how lucky can a 10-year-old boy be? 

Although in many ways a typical boy of his age, with interests in fantasy illustration, video games, playing chess, and athletics such as taekwondo, Little League, soccer and gymnastics, this one also comes equipped with good looks, charm, sharp intelligence and curiosity, several different performing talents, and a drive to succeed, which can only increase one's potential for success. 

But to be playing the role of young Simba, in Disney's multi-Tony Award-winning musical extravaganza "The Lion King," for four performances a week on Broadway has to be a dream for many a young person.

The boy in question is Alexio (pronounced "Aleggio") Barboza, son of renowned jazz and popular music-world photographer Anthony Barboza and his wife, former model and actress Laura Carrington. Anthony is the eldest of eight sons of Anthony Barboza Sr. of New Bedford. The extended family is enormously proud of young Alexio and has made Broadway a favorite destination. Anthony Sr. has seen his grandson perform and, says, uncle Ronald Barboza, a recently retired teacher at New Bedford High School, "We're going down this month as a family to see (the show) on Broadway." 

Anthony and Laura are raising their son and two daughters on Long Island, where Alexio attends school, pursues his interests in athletics, and practices his singing and music (piano, violin, tenor drum and bagpipes). Attending the Progressive School of Long Island for five years, he became involved with theater, skits and revues. And to the surprise of his mom, the appeal of performing took root in the boy.

That led to an audition for a production of "Mandela! An Oratorio," at the Crossroads Theatre in New Jersey, where Alexio landed the role of the young Mandela, the future South African leader. That was followed by an audition for the producers of "The Lion King," who were excited enough by what they saw to offer Alexio the part of young Simba. 

There was a catch, however. It would be for the San Francisco production, which would require relocation to the West Coast. With established roots in New York, the Barboza family was not ready to pull up stakes, even for Disney. 

It wasn't long, however, before another audition for "The Lion King" arose, and this time, it was for the New York company. Alexio was selected for young Simba for a six-month run, performing three matinees and one evening performance a week. With some sadness that the run is now at its mid-point, he has just celebrated his third month anniversary.

A delightful lad with a poised command of his natural enthusiasm and impressive articulation, Alexio clearly loves what he's doing. It was unmistakably evident, even during our first phone interview. Asked what he most enjoyed about the show, he replied thoughtfully, "Well, I know what my favorite scene is. It's the stampede." 

"Why?" I asked. 

"Because I get to fly." 

An invitation to attend a performance and have a backstage tour was extended and accepted. So, it was off to Broadway for this reporter. 

The Walt Disney Company had acquired the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, once home to the fabled Ziegfeld Follies, in the mid-1990s when it languished as an abandoned wreck. After a prodigiously careful two-year, $30-million-plus restoration, "The Lion King" opened in November 1997 to glorious reviews and numerous New York theater accolades, including six 1998 Tony Awards, capped by Best Musical. It's been running strong ever since with no end in sight. 

Attending a jam-packed Wednesday matinee Nov. 17, this reporter couldn't help being impressed with Alexio's sheer joy for performing, which shone out brightly from the stage, even amid the virtuosity of director Julie Taymor's astoundingly inventive production. "The Lion King" is a masterful blend of several types of puppetry, Elton John and Tim Rice's contemporary score mixed with more traditional African music, creative Afro-Caribbean dance, wildly colorful costuming and makeup, and state-of-the-art stage and lighting technology, all in the service of the moving story made internationally popular by the animated Disney film. It is an impressive theatrical event. 

Afterwards, Ms. Carrington greeted me at the stage door, and chatted while awaiting Alexio's arrival. A Brooklyn native, she's a striking beauty who first came to the public eye in Lionel Ritchie's music video for his song "Hello." That led to a stint on "One Life to Live," and later "General Hospital." But now, in a variation of being a soccer mom, she squires her son into the bustle of Times Square four times a week for his Broadway gig. 

"He loves what he's doing," said the proud mom, who is the antithesis of the pushy stage mother. "I wouldn't have encouraged him at all if he'd been reluctant. He's handling it all really nicely and they seem to like what he's doing with the part. And the cast and crew of this show are so kind and supportive of everyone in the show. It's a great feeling backstage."

Alexio appeared in the backstage waiting area, looking fresh and expectant. We wended our way carefully through and around set pieces and oversize puppet costumes, chatting non-stop about the show, his performance and the surprisingly small backstage space. The New Amsterdam Theatre seats 1,700, but the performing space is smaller than New Bedford's own Zeiterion Theatre.

After seeing the show, it's evident that Ms. Carrington doesn't have to worry that Alexio isn't getting enough exercise; he's all over the stage at each performance, running from hyenas and wildebeests, and singing and dancing with the fantastically costumed creatures of the Serengeti Plains.

Asked if he wants to continue with theatre and performing, Alexio is firm in his commitment.  "I'd like to play the adult Simba eventually," he says.  "And if possible, I'd like to do a movie sometime to see what that's like."

Do his friends envy his extra-curricular activity?

"Not too many have come in to see the show yet," he says, "but several have told me they want to.  They're really happy for me though.  They think it's cool!"

 

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