By Erin Dueñas
Twelve-year-old Kiernan Urso can trace his love of acting back to preschool where a creative teacher engaged him and his classmates in games of “Let’s Pretend” where the only limit was their imaginations.
“She let us choose whoever we wanted. We would all pick a character, and she would write a script based on the characters,” said Kiernan. “I remember once there was a play with Peter Pan and Rocky Balboa and three Disney princesses. That’s when I learned that performing was a way of communicating.”
In addition to “Let’s Pretend” sessions, the Longwood Middle School sixth-grader said he would accompany his father, a teacher in Longwood, to the plays put on at school.
“I remember sitting in the front row and thinking I can see myself doing that.”
On May 23, Kiernan will take to the stage as the title character in “Oliver!” at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson.
It will be his third time on the main stage there, having appeared in “A Christmas Carol” as Scrooge as a Boy this past year and Tiny Tim the year before. Kiernan said he is excited to play Oliver.
“He is very innocent but very strong,” Kiernan said of his character. “He can survive anything. Despite his life, that hasn’t gone well, he’s a fighter and he won’t give up.”
But playing the title role, which puts him in nine of the play’s 12 scenes, is also making Kiernan nervous.
“Playing the main character is nerve-wracking,” he said. “What are people going to think? I don’t want to disappoint anyone.”
With rehearsals at least five times a week, preparing for “Oliver!” has taken up a lot of Kiernan’s time, but he manages to complete schoolwork thanks to supportive teachers and making good use of his time.
“I get my homework done during the school day and maybe some in the morning,” he said. “I don’t know how I do it but it works out.”
The demanding rehearsal schedule also keeps Kiernan’s mom Christina busy, driving her son back and forth from their home in Ridge to Port Jefferson.
“It’s all worth the crazy hours. It’s such a great experience for him” she said. “To see that spark in your child’s eye — to see him love it and not just like it. It’s all worth it.”
A self-described movie buff, Kiernan said he enjoys watching movies with a lot of drama, and he said he would love to appear in a horror movie one day. He is a big fan of television as well, counting the ABC show “Once Upon a Time” as a favorite.
“I love how they twist fairy tales and compress them with our modern world,” Kiernan said. “I would love to be on that show someday. I don’t even care what character I would play.”
Kiernan said eventually he would like to audition for commercials and possibly even Broadway. A dream role would be to play King Triton in “The Little Mermaid.”
“He’s in control and I like the feeling of how he can boss people around.”
For now Kiernan is enjoying his time at Theatre Three, which he said is unlike anything he has ever experienced.
“The adults here treat you like one of them,” he said. “They are not distant and they try to help you out and do what it takes to make you comfortable.”
Kiernan said he is particularly inspired by Jeffrey Sanzel, who is directing “Oliver!” and playing the role of Fagin. Sanzel also plays Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.”
“The way he directs, acts and portrays any character he plays is amazing,” Kiernan said. “I want to be like that when I grow up.”
Sanzel is equally impressed with Kiernan.
“When he auditioned for Oliver, we saw something truly extraordinary,” Sanzel said. “It was a combination of raw honesty and underlying fire. In Kiernan, we saw the passion and the light that shines through underneath. The audience will root for him from the first moment to the last.”
Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present the timeless musical “Oliver!” from May 23 to June 27. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.