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WORDS: Kara Chalmers

PICTURES: Whitney Patton

In the span of one hour, I watched Allie McLaughlin, 10, laugh, cry, speak with a convincing British accent and belt out two — pretty difficult — songs. She wasn’t on stage. She was in my living room.

I was interviewing Allie, who’d performed in two big local shows in the past year. Allie played Marta, second youngest of the von Trapp children, in The Sound of Music, which ran in November and December at Sarasota’s Asolo Repertory Theatre.

In January and February, she played the lead in Matilda the Musical at the Manatee Performing Arts Center in Bradenton.

Allie’s a triple threat — besides acting and singing, she dances at Reflex Arts Dance in Sarasota, where she takes ballet, jazz, and tap. She’s taken private piano lessons for nearly three years, takes a musical theater class at Spotlight Theatre. She loves it all.

“I love being on stage,” Allie said. “I like the lights and seeing all the people in front of me.”

That might freak some people out — even theater people. Or, at the very least, give them butterflies. But Allie said she never worries.

“I don’t get scared on stage,” she said, adding that a friend once told her that meant she didn’t care enough. “I care a lot,” she said. “But if you make a mistake, so what? What’s the point of being nervous?”

While Allie adores singing and dancing, acting is her favorite. She likes being different characters, learning lines, and dressing up as someone else.

“Because you’re able to put yourself into someone else’s shoes and tell a story,” Allie said. “You’re someone entirely different from you.”

Being Matilda

Interestingly, while their families couldn’t be more different, there are some notable similarities between Allie and the character she played in Matilda the Musical. For one, both she and Matilda are spunky and smart. Before Allie switched to Florida Virtual School in 2019, to better accommodate her rehearsals and performances, Allie was a straight-A student at Pine View School — no small feat, as Pine View, is solely for academically gifted kids.

Also, both Allie and Matilda are avid readers. For example, Allie had read all seven books of the Harry Potter series, on her own, by third grade.

“Being Matilda was very fun,” Allie said. “The one thing I really like about Matilda is that she’s very smart and tells stories.”

Allie played Matilda with an accent. The story is set in England, and Allie learned her lines and songs partly by listening to the Broadway version of the musical, in which Matilda and the rest of the cast speak with British accents. When I asked Allie if she would demonstrate, her eyes lit up, and she said, “Sure, I love the British accent!”

Warming to her audience, she immediately asked, “Can I tell you a joke?”

Allie is witty and comfortable talking to anyone and singing in front of anyone. But while she’s fond of being in the (literal) spotlight, she is not needy, nor does she crave attention, the way some kids do. She’ll tell you a joke but will ask permission first. Allie is confident without being arrogant, assertive without being pushy. She has empathy and is skilled at reading people.

Michelle Giglio, a professional opera singer who’s given Allie private vocal lessons for more than two years, noted Allie’s energy, enthusiasm, and zest for life. She said they are contagious.

“She’s definitely a performer,” Giglio said. “She just loves it. And I hope she never loses that.”

According to Giglio, Allie is a talented singer with a wide range. But she’s also a hard worker. Even when she’s tired, Allie never admits it. “If she keeps that up, she’ll go far,” Giglio said.

A Fearless Starlet

Being cast in The Sound of Music was a highlight of Allie’s life. She auditioned in April 2019, and rehearsals began that October. In all, there were 52 performances, and Allie did not miss one. She had only Mondays off. And all the while, she learned pages and pages of lines for Matilda the Musical.

But she didn’t mind the long days and nights.

“I liked staying up late,” she said, noting she once stayed up till 1 a.m. “That’s every child’s dream, to stay up late… or early.

As Allie talked to me about how sad she was when The Sound of Music ended, I noticed her eyes welling up.

“I cried after the curtains closed, I cried after the toast, I cried when I got home,” she said. “Because I was going to miss it, the cast, the stage, the set.”

At that point, I realized tears were actually flowing — it had been hard to tell at first because she was wearing a mask — and I put down my pen and asked her if she needed a hug. She did.

“She’s sensitive,” said Christine Orta, who’s been Allie’s musical theater and dance teacher for seven years. “She can recall a memory and really feel it. She was born with that skill.”

Allie was born with a lot of skills; it turns out. She’s been fearlessly entertaining people since she could walk and talk, her parents said. There’s a video of Allie, at age four, singing “Do You Want to Build a   Snowman” at a talent show aboard a cruise ship during a family vacation. Being on stage brought a huge smile to her face. You can hear her raw vocal talent and feel her stage presence. Her innate performance and memorization skills were apparent even then.

“That can’t be taught,” Orta said. “It’s natural for her.” Orta, who teaches at Reflex Arts Dance, remembers the first year she taught Allie. “Allie was immediately the star in the class,” Orta said. “She was three. She was so strong-willed, extremely social, not shy at all.”

Orta said Three-year-olds are often shy at first. But not Allie. “She was like, ‘Hi! I’m here! What are we doing first?'” Orta said. Allie picked up dance moves quickly and was great at memorization. “She paid attention very well,” Orta said. “She was always present, didn’t drift off.”

Allie has since become extremely skilled at remembering choreography and lines. In fact, for both The Sound of Music and Matilda the Musical, she learned the other cast members’ lines, songs, and dances, and performed them backstage.

According to Orta, as a student, Allie is a perfectionist, a rule follower, and exceptionally confident. She wants to please, and Orta said she never has to give Allie critiques more than once. Allie gives 100 percent, every class.

“She goes for it,” Orta said. “Those are the kids who are going to be successful.”

Giving her All, All the Time

According to Allie, she puts her entire heart and soul into each performance, each audition. She uses the phrase “tried my best” often.

She’s had her heart broken. She hasn’t won all the parts for which she’s auditioned. She’s been an understudy for a play that never needed to use her.

“I almost cried,” Allie said. “You do get heartbroken. But that’s OK.”

Allie is mature enough to know there’ll be more rejections in her future if she continues down this career path. But she has enough of a sense of self-worth not to take rejections as reflections of her as a person. There’ll always be another show to try out for, she said.

“The thing about acting,” she said, “is that you have to be prepared to get ‘no’s.’ There will be a million ‘no’s’ for one ‘yes.'”

Allie practices what she preaches. She’s up for anything. A fear of messing up words doesn’t keep her from singing louder than anyone else. A fear of a slip doesn’t keep her from leaping. A fear of not being good enough has never even entered her mind.

“I’ve never had that feeling,” she said, looking confused, I would even ask.

Most likely, her family is responsible for that. Allie has a close family that loves, nurtures, and supports her unconditionally, but that keeps her grounded in reality. The family, comprising Allie (the sole extrovert), her older brother Thomas, 12, and her younger sister Ainsley, 6, enjoys family game nights, Disney movie nights, and marathons of Brain Games (Allie’s favorite TV show) at their Lakewood Ranch home.

The McLaughlins have a busy schedule that accommodates the passions of all the children equally and allows plenty of time for the siblings to play together. The siblings support each other — Allie cheers Thomas on at his swim meets, and Ainsley claps for Allie on stage, although sometimes she’s fallen asleep by the final bows.

Allie knows what she wants — as local theaters start re-opening, she’ll audition for any role that calls for a girl her age. She wants to go to Pace University and then to sing and act in, well, anything. She wants to star on Broadway.

Her parents will do what they can to help Allie achieve her dreams, including bringing her to New York to audition for Broadway shows, as soon as the world is back to normal.

Orta, Allie’s dance and musical theater teacher, said she definitely sees acting and musical theater in Allie’s future.

“I could honestly say I can’t see her not doing it,” Orta said. “She’s just going to keep driving this car till it flies. This is going to be her primary focus. This is not just a phase or a hobby.”

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