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Scottdale girl returns home from theatrical tour

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By Sam Kusic
Sunday, Nov. 4, 2001

Ten-year-old Maggie Martinsen swears that if she ever has to hear the song "Castle on a Cloud" again it will be too soon.

Not that she doesn't like it, but she had been singing it night after night as part of her role in the Broadway musical "Les Miserables."

Martinsen returned home to Scottdale in September after a three-year tour with the production. She performed all over the country and in Canada, playing the young version of a character named Cosette.

The production took her and her aunt, Debbie Riggin, to all but four states as well as Canada.

For the two, it was three continuous years on the road. They lived in hotels and ate in restaurants. During the months Martinsen normally would have been in school, she and the three other kids in the show spent five hours a day during the week working with a tutor.

All told, she performed in roughly 1,352 shows.

The young Cosette is abused by her foster parents. Martinsen also played the young version of another character, Eponine, the couple's real daughter.

In either role, Martinsen was on stage for about 20 minutes during any given show.

She said she was never nervous because she couldn't see the audience - the stage lights blinded her - and she figured she'd never be back to any of the towns she was performing in.

"If I messed up, I wouldn't see (the audience) again," she said.

Prior to leaving, Martinsen had performed in shows at Scottdale Showtime Theatre and was a student at the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera Academy of Musical Theater.

Her mom, Jan Martinsen, said her daughter has always had some measure of musical talent.

"From the time she was little, she has always liked to sing. She could carry a tune, and if she heard a song, she could sing it back on key."

Martinsen landed the part after her aunt saw an ad in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for open call for kids.

On a whim, Riggin suggested her niece audition.

Maggie's mother, however, wasn't so keen on the idea because she didn't want to see her daughter be rejected.

"I didn't want her to be disappointed," she said.

Riggin said she ought to go anyway, at least just to see what an audition for a Broadway production was all about.

So they went. And she sang "Castle on a Cloud." And the people from the show liked her.

Jan Martinsen said they told her they wanted her daughter in the show, but they didn't have an opening at the moment. They would call later, she was told, if something opened up.

Martinsen said she thought that amounted to a polite brush-off. But a month later, they called her at work and asked if Maggie could be in Tampa in a few weeks.

"I was shocked," she said.

Martinsen eventually had to leave the musical because she was growing too tall for her part.

Andre Barette, the musical's production stage manager, said Martinsen was playing a character who is 5 or 6. He said the kids can't be too tall because they need to maintain a size difference between the younger and older versions of characters.

He said that helps show time has elapsed and a character has indeed grown up.

But that's not to say he and the other cast members wanted Maggie to go.

"She's a doll," said Barette. "I don't have a bad thing to say about Maggie. When she left it was a sad day for all of us."

So now after three years on the road, she's come home and is trying to adapt to a normal life for a 10-year-old.

She's playing soccer and she's already made some new friends at school.

Her mom is glad to have her home.

"I missed her terribly, but I was happy for her," Martinsen said. She also thinks the Maggie she sent off is the same Maggie who came home.

"I think the great thing about Maggie is she left not being a stage kid and she came back not being a stage kid. She's definitely not full of herself and I love that."

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