Getting down in ‘Motown’

BMS student makes it big channeling Michael Jackson


From Baldwin Middle School to Broadway, 12-year-old Leon Outlaw Jr. has dazzled crowds with his voice and dance moves. Now the sixth-grader is performing in the Windy City as part of “Motown: The Musical’s” national tour.

Leon, whose family moved from Brooklyn to Baldwin in 2012, began dancing shortly after he learned to walk. So when a family friend told his mother, Sabrina, about a “Motown” audition last September, he was ready.

His favorite artist to dance to is Michael Jackson, and as fate would have it, he auditioned for the role of the young Jackson, as well as the young Berry Gordy Jr. and Stevie Wonder. Leon and his mother went to a theater in Manhattan for the first audition, in which he had to sing a cappella. He did well, but was still surprised to be invited back. “I was shocked when the first callback came,” he said, adding that he had a feeling then that he would make it all the way.

Five callbacks later, Leon was offered the part in November. He was watching television one day when his mother asked him to turn it down so she could listen to a voicemail. She made an unusual request, though, asking her son to hold the phone while the message played. It was good news. “I was like ‘what?’” he recalled. “I was speechless.”

He didn’t stay that way for long, however, and accepted the role. He and his mother moved to Chicago in March to join the rest of the tour cast for rehearsals. Leon said it was tough to make the shift, especially during the school year, but he has made it work. He now has a private tutor, and said he enjoys the one-on-one attention.

As the touring company was ready to put on its first show in Chicago, Leon was asked to fill in in “Motown’s” Broadway production. On April 18, with his mother and father, Leon Sr., and four older brothers and sisters in the crowd, Leon Jr. made his Broadway debut.

The show went well, and he said that after weeks of practice, he wasn’t nervous leading up to the performance. Sabrina, however, was another story. “I was definitely much more nervous than he was,” she said. “Opening up your first show on Broadway is huge.”

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