A young actor from Atlanta is making his Broadway debut this season. He’s only 13 and he’s never acted professionally before. But don’t worry — he’s got it in his DNA.
Disaster! star Baylee Littrell is the son of model and actress Leighanne Littrell and Brian Littrell, a member of the Backstreet Boys. “He’s way better than both of us put together,” said his proud mom. “Like way better.”?
Baylee likes baseball, grooves to The Temptations, admires Carol Burnett, cries on the couch watching girly movies with his mom and is studying the Jazz Age with his tutor. He grew up on the road — his crib was on the Backstreet Boys bus — and he has a knack for connecting with older people.
“I always was a little more sharper in some ways,” he said in a joint interview with his parents. “I was always like a little too mature to hang out with other kids.”
Fitting for a young man with plenty of goofy voices and an ear for mimicry, Baylee actually plays two characters in the show, a spoof of 1970s disaster movies. He plays the always-battling twins Ben and Lisa. (For Lisa, he dons a wig and sings in a higher octave.)
He sings a clutch of songs, including “25 or 6 to 4” and “Ben,” popularized by a young Michael Jackson. “This show is nothing like a Broadway show,” he said. “It’s funny and a lot of Broadway shows are dead serious.”
That he would end up in show business one day might have been predicted from the way he lit up watching his dad sing and dance in front of thousands.
When he was 4, the band’s manager brought him onstage for the encore. “He was running and waving and everyone’s like ‘Baylee! Baylee!'” said his father. Baylee didn’t want it to end: “He’d cry and pitch a fit. Like, ‘Where’s everybody going?'”
Soon Baylee was the opening act for the band, asking to sing songs by Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey. “Two of the best vocalists on the planet,” said Brian Littrell. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh. Are you sure?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah!'”
His parents, who met on the video shoot for the Backstreet song “As Long as You Love Me,” didn’t initially encourage their son to follow their paths, knowing how hard show business can be.
“We’re not those parents to push him in any direction,” said his dad. “We’re just supportive and loving in whatever he wants to do. He could be a trashman or a schoolteacher, it doesn’t matter. We’re here to love him.”
The youngster got his big stage break when he auditioned for the upcoming Nickelodeon comedy series School of Rock. He didn’t get called back but the casting director knew Disaster! co-writer Seth Rudetsky and recommended Baylee when Rudetsky needed a kid for a one-night showing of his musical.
Baylee submitted a video audition and got the part. He auditioned again a few months later for another one-night-only performance of the show and then auditioned again to nab the role on Broadway.
“When I think about it, I accomplished something that not a lot of people get to achieve in their life,” he said. “I’m still a little shocked. It still hasn’t come out of my mind yet.”
Baylee’s previous stage experience consisted solely of a production of the children’s musical Dear Edwina when he was 7 in front of a few hundred people. In a weird twist, the cast album of the show he memorized was sung, in part, by Kerry Butler, now his “Disaster!” co-star.
In Dear Edwina, Baylee was the youngest in the cast and so impressed the creators that they added more things for him to do onstage. At one point he was dressed as a leprechaun dancing in a trash can.
“Look where that pot of gold took me now,” he said, laughing.