What had you accomplished by the age of 12? Worked a paper route? Opened and run a lemonade stand?
Ben Krieger of Palm Beach Gardens, 12, is already a veteran stage performer, having appeared in three national tours of Broadway shows. This Tuesday night, when he opens in Finding Neverland at the Broward Center, he will have notched some 250 performances in the past two years, including featured roles in road companies of Pippin and The Sound of Music. Over that time, he has entertained more than half a million people in 38 cities, as well as three weeks in Japan and a month in Amsterdam.
Ben’s career began when he was 8, when his sister Charlotte was taking classes and performing at Star Struck Performing Arts studio in Stuart. “One day I tagged along, got involved and got hooked. Soon I was busy with all things theater,” he says. “After that, I began at the conservatory at the Maltz (Jupiter Theatre), where an agent saw me and signed me up.”
At the Maltz, Ben was a member of the theater’s Youth Touring Company, eventually working his way up to the featured mainstage role of Gavroche in Les Misérables.
“The Maltz has a really good training program. I learned so much about performing and about the discipline of the theater,” he says. “I got to meet and observe so any professional actors, who taught me what the business is like. And I got to be in some terrific shows there. I got encouragement there and soon the roles began coming my way.”
Recalling his time spent in Les Miz, Ben says, “That was an amazing production. The set was extraordinary, the director gave me a lot of attention and I think I really grew as an actor from the whole experience.”
His father Gary, a private wealth manager, adds, “He has grown so much through theater, both physically, he’s several inches taller in the past few years, and emotionally, he’s really matured. It wasn’t easy for us to send him off on his own on tour, but we are very proud of how well he has handled it.”
Since both of his parents work, and have two other children to raise, they sent Ben off on tour accompanied by various chaperones, like his summer camp counselor, who has traveled with him during his time with Finding Neverland.
“There have definitely been stressful times along the way with chaperone coverage,” notes Ben’s mother Tracie, who owns and runs a music education business. “but mostly it was awesome. Ben’s brother and sister have visited on almost every single school vacation and my husband and I have taken turns doing longer visits with him.”
Finding Neverland is based on the 2004 film that starred Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet. Ben ranks it as his favorite of the three national tours he has worked. “It’s a really magical show. It’s about Peter Pan, but it’s not. It’s really about the man who wrote Peter Pan and how that story came to be,” he says. In it, J.M. Barrie is inspired to write the story of “the boy who wouldn’t grow up” by a family of fatherless brothers he meet and befriends in a London park.
“I get to play Peter and George Davies,” explains Ben. “There’s a regular rotation of the roles, so most of us play a couple of parts each week. I think that’s an exciting part of it for me.”
Ben considers the tour leg of Pippin in Japan to be one of the most rewarding parts of his time on the road. “Japan was a very cool place,” he says. “The audiences were great, but they don’t really clap in the middle of the show like they do in the States. Fortunately, we were warned about that in advance or it might have thrown us off. But at the end of the show, they stood up and cheered, so they appreciated it.
“The best part of being on tour is getting to see so many different places. The worst is not being home and sleeping in my own bed, being apart from my family.”
At the end of the Broward Center engagement of Finding Neverland – exactly two years since he accepted the role in Pippin – Ben Krieger will leave the show and return to Palm Beach Gardens. “It feels like time to take a step back and return home,” he says. But, he adds, it might not be long before he auditions for another role at the Maltz. And if not there, there is always Broadway to conquer.
FINDING NEVERLAND, Broward Center, 201 S.W. Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tuesday, June 13–Sunday, June 25. From $40.25 up. 954-462-0222.