Eleven-year-old kids are supposed to be playing video games and worrying about school. The rigors of the Broadway stage, memorizing lines, performing for different faces at each staging, wow, some adults can’t handle that, let alone eleven-year-old children. Milanis Clark didn’t get that memo, however, and nor did her family. Shepherded by her mother Yeimis and stepmother Toni Menage, each associated as a dancer and manager respectively with iconic pop star Lisa Lisa from the act Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, Clark has risen from inauspicious beginnings as a three year old participating in local talent contests to her second role in Broadway musical as well as a growing list of television credits.
Her first Broadway appearance as Tina Turner’s older sister Alline in childhood in the popular production Tina – The Tina Turner Musical turned a bevy of heads and some of those are associated with the new production about American vocal legend Ella Fitzgerald. Anna Deavere’s Ella – An American Miracle couples a dramatic look at the vocalist, both as a young and older woman, with a joyous rifling through Fitzgerald’s seminal songbook for the production, She does not have starring roles in either of these productions, naturally, but these are not unimportant parts she’s playing and that she has landed them at all reflects the absurdly high confidence the producers and directors in both productions are willing to place in a girl too young to legally drive a car.
It is the same confidence director Tim Federle placed in her to carry off her role in the Disney+ movie Better Nate than Ever starring the talents of Rueby Wood, Aria Brooks, Lisa Kudrow, and Joshua Bassett, among others. Those performers just named are all respected figures in the film and entertainment world, some more than others of course, but the fact that they so willingly work with an eleven year old performer as they do here testifies to the seriousness with which they treat Clark as a credible performer.
It does not matter though, in the end. Why? Clark does this for herself, first and foremost. When it is a passion, as she says herself, the first person you are looking to please is yourself and everything and one else comes in second. She wants us to come along with her on each of the journeys these aforementioned roles represent, but she is taking them on with or without us and we’re poorer if we miss out.
Performers infused with such a powerful love for their art are the ones who deserve your support. Not the fame junkies, not the money marks, but the individuals who are waking up each more and contending with how to make what they feel inside or read on the page come alive for the audience. Milanis Clark makes it come alive and you can expect she will continue to do so for many, many more years to come. Let’s pull up a front row seat and watch a career unfold before our eyes.