Luca Padovan hardly could have known when he made his community theater debut in March, playing a Munchkin in a Bayside production of “The Wizard of Oz,” what fate had in store for him.
Six months to the day after that show closed, Luca found himself front and center on Broadway, as one of the pivotal characters in the Disney hit musical, “Newsies.”
That was on Sept. 17, when he first stepped into the role of Les, the youngest of the street urchins who peddle their newspapers for pennies.
“It was the best birthday present,” Luca, 10, said.
Sharing the role with another young actor, he plays four shows a week.
Luca seems to have show business in his blood, as does his older sister, Valentina, though how it got there is something of a mystery.
The closest their mom, Daniela, ever got to Broadway was through her job in the human resources department of a law firm in Manhattan. Dad Bert serves as project manager of a plumbing and heating company.
Luca, a lifelong resident of Queens, began playing the guitar at 6 years old. Shortly after, he discovered Art House Astoria, a conservatory for music and art, where he became the youngest member of the show choir and a community caroler.
In December of last year he was a finalist at the Broadhollow Theater’s Bay Way Idol Talent Competition, and he spent part of this past summer attending a performing arts camp at Queens College.
Still, his rapid leap to the big stage took everyone — even Luca himself — by surprise.
It came as a direct result of Kids’ Night on Broadway, part of a national audience development program, which takes place in late February. The event lets kids ages 6 to 18 see a Broadway show for free when accompanied by a full-paying adult.
The entire Padovan family decided to see “Newsies” together. After the performance, then-cast member Andrew Keenan-Bolger spoke to the audience, sharing stories about his own rise to theatrical success.
“I felt he was talking to me,” Luca said.
With that inspiration, he auditioned for the show and, while in the car driving home after the final callback, he got the call.
Throughout the show, he and his fellow newspaper boys, the rest all played by actors at least several years older than he is, repeatedly charge up and down the elaborate scaffolding that is the focal point of the set.
“It’s hard to keep up with these big, fast men,” lamented Luca, who stands all of 53 inches tall and weighs in at a spry 63 pounds. But, he added, “They’re so nice. They’re awesome.”
Rehearsals for Luca began in mid-August in a studio where he worked with the lead stage manager.
The afternoon of his opening, “We ran the whole show,” Luca said. “It’s called a put-in,” he explained of a rehearsal in which new cast members are worked into the performance. Two hours later, he’d be going on.
He recalled that as the curtain was about to rise, “I was so excited but so nervous at the same time. I was the first one in costume. Once I stepped on stage, it was gone — just vanished.”
Surprisingly, he was a lot more nervous at “The Wizard of Oz,” as it was his first show.
While appearing on Broadway, the fifth-grader continues to attend regular school as his schedule permits.
“They tailor the assignments,” his mom explained. “They let us know what he missed.”
On the days when they’re not performing, the two young actors alternating as Les are required to be backstage at the theater, effectively serving as understudies for each other.
According to his mother, Luca spends much of that time hitting the school books.
Her son, who has a six-month contract with the show, was attracted to it because “the story is real ... what they had to go through to get what they want ... they fight and don’t give up.”
The most fun for Luca during each performance is being rolled around on stage in a barrel.
And after the curtain comes down, he gets to meet fans waiting at the stage door, many to get an autograph.
“It’s really cool to make the people smile. It’s so much fun,” he said.