The big stage: Arlington Heights fifth-grader goes from local roles to national tour of 'Les Miserables'
If circumstances were different, Patrick McDermott would be in his fifth-grade classroom at Windsor Elementary School in Arlington Heights. Instead, he finds himself in Cincinnati this week with the national touring company of "Les MisÚrables."
Patrick plays the role of Gavroche, the street urchin who appears in both the first and second act before he is shot while trying to help the revolutionaries by stealing ammunition from dead soldiers.
"I get to do a death scene," Patrick says. "It's pretty dramatic. I fall into the arms of someone off the barricade. The first time I did it, it was a little scary."
Patrick is one of five children in the cast. He alternates the role of Gavroche with another boy. Both opened on their respective nights last week in Bloomington, Indiana. They will play in 11 more cities, from coast to coast, before winding up the tour in mid-August in Toronto.
He's come a long way since I last interviewed him when he was in first grade and played the role of Tiny Tim in "A Christmas Carol" at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.
In fact, Patrick is coming off the holiday run of the musical "Oliver!" at the Lincolnshire Marriott, where he played the Artful Dodger. In all, he has appeared in several major productions, including "Ragtime" at the Marriott and "Matilda" and "Seussical the Musical," both at Drury Lane Theater in Oakbrook.
Landing a role in a national touring production was a big step for young Patrick and his family. He follows three older siblings -- Jimmy, Molly and Erin -- who all competed at the national level in speech, though they only traveled for weekend competitions.
His parents are educators. His father, Scott McDermott, is an associate principal at Prospect High School, and has coached speech at the high school level for 25 years. His mother, Julie, is a special-education teacher at Glenbrook South High School in Northbrook.
Julie McDermott took a leave of absence from her job to accompany Patrick on the tour and oversee his home schooling. When Patrick is not completing course work online, he attends class in a makeshift classroom with the other children in the cast and their teacher.
"It's been exciting and fun," Julie McDermott says. "He's usually off at least one day a week, so we're trying to do some sightseeing in the different cities on the tour."
Before and after Patrick appeared in "A Christmas Carol," he took theater and voice classes at Metropolis and attended its summer camps.
"Metropolis definitely gave me my boost," he says.
He also credits McDonald Dance Academy in Arlington Heights with teaching him the fundamentals of dance technique and performance. He misses his dance lessons so much that, while on tour, he and his mother seek out dance students at local universities for private lessons.
Back at home, Scott McDermott holds down the fort with his daughter, Erin, a junior at Prospect, while the two older siblings are away at college.
All of them were involved in the decision to let Patrick go on tour, but in the end they all agreed: Patrick is passionate about performing.
Even back in first grade, his father says he saw the determination in his youngest son to become an actor.
"Basically," he said, "I feel pretty comfortable when he says he's doing this for the rest of his life."