by Len Lear
“Precocious” would be an understatement for Samantha Deutsch, 15, a sophomore at Germantown Friends School and a Wyndmoor resident. When she was 10 years old, she sang the four questions at a Passover Seder, after which “people were coming up to me and telling me I should take voice lessons. Once I started singing, I found my passion for performing. I started off in a school play, and shortly after that I was cast in my first professional show.”
The first role for Samantha (friends and family call her Sammi) was Alanna in a school play, “The Little Mermaid,” in the sixth grade. At the age of 12, Sammi earned her first professional roles in “Shrek, Jr.” at the Walnut Street Theatre. She portrayed Little Shrek, Little Fiona and the Dwarf Dad. “It was one of the best experiences of my life!” she exclaimed. “When I first walked out on stage in front of over a thousand people, I was terrified. But I remember walking offstage with a huge grin on my face.”
Sammi is currently playing four roles in the Walnut Street Theatre’s production of “HONK! JR.” Based on Hans Christian Anderson’s classic fairytale, “The Ugly Duckling,” this hour-long adaptation of “HONK” for young people opened Sept. 23 and will run through Oct. 8. Ugly is an odd-looking baby duck that doesn’t quite fit in, a fact soon noticed and mocked by the other farmyard animals. With the help of a whole flock of unique characters, Ugly sets off on a wild adventure where he soon learns to accept and love what makes him different.
“HONK!” premiered in London’s West End in 1999, becoming the first new British musical to be produced at the prestigious National Theatre. In 2000, the show won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical, with other nominees including “The Lion King” and “Mamma Mia!” Since then, “HONK!” has played around the world with over 8,000 productions.
Sammi auditioned for “HONK! JR.” in late July and was called back to sing and read for the director and the producing artistic director. “The next day, I received an email offering me the roles!” said Sammi, who was attracted to the show because “there’s never a dull moment, and it keeps you on your toes. I get to tap dance, hatch from an egg and fall flat on my face (on purpose, of course!). It also has a great message for our young audiences, which is never to judge a book by its cover. Teaching tolerance and acceptance is crucial in society today, and art is a wonderful way to help spread the message.”
Sammi’s mother, Susan Dornstein, is a doctor specializing in internal medicine, and her father, Gary Deutsch, is a lawyer specializing in mortgage litigation. “They’re extremely supportive (about her being an actress). My schedule requires a huge commitment on their part. They’re doing everything from driving me to rehearsals, coming to shows and sometimes taking me to last-minute auditions. I couldn’t do any of this without them.”
Most of Sammi’s shows have been musicals, so she has become quite a proficient song/dance performer. Her favorite musicals have been “The Secret Garden,” “A Christmas Carol” and “Skippyjon Jones.” But despite her love of theater, Sammi’s career ambition is to go into International Relations, focusing on the Middle East. “I speak Hebrew, and I’m starting to learn Arabic, which is exciting! … But I want to make sure theater always stays a part of my life.”
Has Sammi ever forgotten any lines on stage? “Actually, I’ve never forgotten a line on stage. However, I remember a show where my scene partner forgot the rest of the scene, and we improvised our way through it. It was challenging, but it was a great learning experience.”
What is the hardest thing Sammi has ever done? “‘The Secret Garden,’ although rewarding, was extremely difficult. Maintaining vocal health became a priority to get through many shows. At the same time, I had to manage my school work, even during tech days that would last over eight hours.”
What does Sammi like to do in her spare time? “I have three dogs at home — Theo, Georgia and Latte. When I can, I like to spend most of my free time snuggling with them. I also love baking, horseback riding and learning new languages!”
Sammi has two brothers, Brennan, 20, who is currently in the Navy, and Jaron, 23, who works at ICM Partners, a talent and literary agency in New York City.
For ticket information to “HONK, JR.,” call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787. Tickets can also be purchased online at www.WalnutStreetTheatre.org.