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Tackling the right role

Grant football player jumps from gridiron to theater stage


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Grant High School student Javon Carter (center) rehearses his role as Louis Armstrong in the upcoming Oregon Childrens Theatre production of Magic Tree House: A Night in New Orleans with fellow stars Ashlee Waldbauer (left) and Thom Hilton. Carter, who doubles as a Grant football player, wants to pursue a music career, preferably songwriting and producing.His new mentor at Oregon Children’s Theatre sees Javon Carter as something of a prodigy, possessing a voice that could carry him to great heights.

Watch the good singers on “American Idol” or “The Voice” or the “X Factor,” says Stan Foote, and you’ll see somebody with Carter’s talent.

“He’s an amazing singer,” says Foote, artistic director at Oregon Children’s Theatre, where Carter, who’s also a starting defensive tackle for the Grant High football team, makes his debut this week. “He’s got a voice that’s like butter, as good a voice as you find with anybody in Portland. He sings a lot (in the show), and he’ll melt you. He’s got a world-class voice.”

For the record, the 17-year-old Carter doesn’t see himself auditioning for a TV talent show. Instead, he wants to enjoy his senior year, football and his start in professional acting and singing and then attend college — Vanderbilt? Morehouse? Clark Atlanta University? — to study marketing and economics as “my fallback.”

Carter plays a young Louis Armstrong in OCT’s season-opening musical, “Magic Tree House: A Night in New Orleans,” Oct. 19 to Nov. 10 at Newmark Theatre. He’ll sing about 10 songs, and he’ll act, although he definitely enjoys the singing aspect more.

“I started singing around 5 years old, when I kind of realized I could sing,” he says. “I joined the choir at King Elementary.

“Everyone in my family sings, even the in-laws. It’s so crazy. Everybody’s involved in music. Music for me was an inevitability.”

Carter enjoys the football aspect of his life, as well, but it’s nothing compared to singing.

“I go to church and play drums and sing there,” says Carter, who’s also an avid piano player. “I’d like to produce music and write music (someday). That’s where the real money is.”

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Grant Highs Javon Carter battles an Aloha offensive lineman during a recent game. Carter starts on the defensive line for the Generals, but singing remains his primary passion.Carter suffered an anterior cruciate ligament tear a couple years ago playing for Grant, but he persevered and returned to the field. The 5-11 Carter says he had gained weight during his recovery from the knee injury, but proudly says he slimmed to 240 pounds. He’s one of Grant’s seniors, although the Generals have struggled in the season’s early going.

Carter says it’s cool to sing for Oregon Children’s Theatre and play football — kind of an odd combination — and “it’s not a big deal” to bridge the worlds of the athletic and artistic kids at his school.

“Because there are people at my school who do it all — sports, singing and drama and everything,” he says.

Says Foote: “The crossover isn’t that unusual. We have at least three kids who auditioned this season who were football players. We have well-rounded kids. We’ve had baseball players. Sports and theater are a lot alike. They require teamwork, cooperation, healthy egos, some athleticism.”

‘Very special kids

The OCT folks recruited Carter and his friend, dancer Nate Golden, after seeing them in a Grant High production, “The Wiz.” Carter would make a perfect, young Louis Armstrong, they thought. They both auditioned and made the cast. In the “Magic Tree House,” a pair of kids travel in time to meet a young Armstrong in 1915 New Orleans to convince him to play music.

“I think they cast me for my voice, but when we did pictures, they said I kind of favored Louis a bit,” Carter

muses.

“I knew a little bit about him, from elementary school. He was this amazing jazz musician. His nickname was ‘Satchmo’ and he loved to puff his cheeks when he played. I recently started listening to his music — ‘Wow, this guy was doing this music?’”

Carter says he fakes playing the trumpet; instead, “Magic Tree House” includes an eight-piece ensemble performing music, with original music composed by R&B legend Allen Toussaint. Carter shows off his musical prowess in song.

“It was kind of challenging at first. A lot of the songs have slightly jazz riffs, and notes will be sharp or flatted,” says Carter, who’s a tenor. “I had to get used to reading that.”

by: COURTESY OF OWEN CAREY - Thom Hilton (right) and Ashlee Waldbauer star as friends who go back in time to encourage Louis Armstrong (played by Javon Carter) to stick with music in Magic Tree House: A Night in New Orleans.He’s quite happy to have a part-time job, doing what he loves. He’s already been cast in OCT’s next production, “Zombie in Love.”

Oregon Children’s Theatre, which earned multiple awards at the Drammy Awards in June, stands as one of the largest theater companies of its kind in the country. It mentors about 60 kids each year, with more than 1,000 in classes, and entertains thousands with shows and in-school visits.

The company helps shape the careers of a lot of performers like Carter, many of whom want to be professional singers and actors.

“Not all of them want to be adult actors,” says Foote, who has been directing at OCT for 23 years, 15 as artistic director. “Kids we get on stage are very special kids. We want them to be special. That’s what we’re looking for — kids who are good human beings.”