When he was about four or five years old, Leighton Tantillo sat in front of his parents’ piano and tinkered around, until his musician parents took a shine to him and got him a piano teacher. He began writing music at age 7, then playing the drums, and his interest in the arts grew until, at age 11, the Park Ridge native appeared on stage in the Goodman Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol.”
Tantillo, a seventh-grader at Lincoln Middle School in Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, plays Peter Cratchit, the older son of childhood protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge as well as Scrooge’s long-suffering employee Bob Cratchit.
He spent the last few weeks rehearsing and acclimating to Goodman and the play’s large cast, which included some notables from Chicago theater, until the show officially opened on November 26.
“This is awesome. It’s great to be with these incredibly talented people. It gets better every day,” Tantillo said.
During the rehearsal process, he learned a little about the conditions under which poor Londoners lived in Victorian England. The fictional Cratchits has to send young Peter to work in a boot-shining factory, just as playwright Charles Dickens had to do when his father was sent to debtors’ prison. According to the National Archives of the United Kingdom.
“I think Peter is unaware of the challenging circumstances,” Tantillo said. “Low pay and being treated like Mr. Scrooge treated Bob Cratchit.”
He also predicted that Peter would have to drop out of school.
Leighton’s mother, Kerry Tantillo, noted that Goodman welcomed young actors or child actors like Leighton, and said Thomas J. Cox, who played Bob Cratchit for several years, approached the parents to greet them.
“He said, ‘These kids make the production what it is,’” he recalled.
According to Goodman, Chicago theater veteran Larry Yando, who is in his 16th year playing Scrooge, approached Leighton on the first day and said: “‘I heard you’re playing young me.’ He was friendly and welcoming,” Kerry Tantillo recounted.
Leighton Tantillo was not short of a welcome.
“Larry Yando is so talented and amazing,” the child actor said. “I can never imagine another Scrooge. “His speaking voice and acting are amazing.”
While Goodman was encouraging, Kerry Tantillo noted that Leighton’s school was, too.
“Lincoln principal David Szwed was extremely supportive. Kerry Tantillo said, ‘You should take this opportunity because it’s great,'” Kerry Tantillo said.
“We had a meeting with the teacher, Ms. Sebo, and she said: “You memorize the scripts; Maybe we can use this as a reading assignment instead of a book.”
Kerry Tantillo also stated that Leighton had free time during rehearsals for schoolwork but could be very tired at the end of the day. She said Leighton’s brother, a Maine South High School student, was all about sports, while his sister, a Washington School student, appeared in some plays and took lessons at the Lynnette School of Dance in Park Ridge. Leighton also took dance lessons there to improve her artistic skills, her mother said.
This skill set gave Leighton her first big step into the world of theater this past spring. He was taking drum lessons at the School of Rock in Park Ridge when representatives from the “School of Rock” production at the Paramount Theater in Aurora asked if any child musicians wanted to try out. Kerry Tantillo said Leighton was cast in the lead role because of her musical skills.
“50 liked the show and realized that was my goal; I need to do this,” Kerry thought.
“It all happened so fast. During School of Rock, all the kids had agents and we felt so behind. So we reached out to a few agencies and Stewart Talent hired him.”
Agents instructed the Tantillos to have Leighton try out for “A Christmas Carol” at an open call last summer.
“They kept calling him back and rehearsals started in late October,” Kerry Tantillo said.
Leighton is also slated to star in “The Music Man.” Metropolis Performing Arts Center He added that he was in Arlington Heights in February.
But the Goodman experience provides Leighton with new opportunities.
“He’s meeting people he probably wouldn’t normally be in the same room with,” Kerry Tantillo said. “Mr. Fezziwig is played by a deaf actor this year, and they’re working with sign language. Leighton learned a lot from him. The diversity of this cast; you get representation from everything, and it’s really great.”
“So Leighton has learned a lot of sign language and he’s friends with Robert and they’re learning history and it’s really cool.”
Leighton, however, caught the theater bug.
“I just want to say how much fun it is to be in this performance every day,” Goodman said of his experience. “Every day feels different.”