From Young Simba to Little Michael Jackson, Broadway’s doors open for 12-year-old Delawarean

After touring the country as Simba in “The Lion King,” Jackson Hayes is now playing a young Michael Jackson in Broadway’s “MJ: The Musical.”

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Debuting on Broadway, Jackson Hayes from Middletown, Delaware, plays the role of Little Michael Jackson in MJ: The Musical.

Debuting on Broadway, Jackson Hayes from Middletown, Delaware, plays the role of Little Michael Jackson in ''MJ: The Musical.'' (Courtesy of Michaelah Reynolds)

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Twelve-year-old Jackson Hayes stepped in front of the bright lights of Broadway on Dec. 1, where he was cast in the role of young Michael Jackson in “MJ: The Musical.”

His passion for the arts and success at an early age is a credit to the significant influence of his mother.

Mother Lori Hayes, a high school English teacher, directed her son as a Munchkin in a local production of “The Wiz.” She said that’s when he got “bit by that bug,”’ setting the stage for his passion in the world of performing arts.

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Before securing a role as young Michael Jackson, Hayes was first cast as Simba in the touring company of “The Lion King.”

Jackson Hayes playing Young Simba on the national tour of ”The Lion King.” (Courtesy of Matthew Murphy)

“Our family is just musically gifted. His brother is in a show at his school. So he’s gone to see his brother perform,” she said. “Ironically enough, one of my cousins was cast on the Lion King tour while we were there [trying out]. She got put on after he already got put on, so we had two family members touring with the national Lion King.”

Fueled by a desire to thrive in the acting profession, Jackosn submitted an audition video for “The Sound of Music.” That video captured the attention of other directors and producers, ultimately resulting in a call inviting him to audition for the national tour of “The Lion King.”

That meant countless days and months of preparation, from taking dance classes, vocal lessons, to acting rehearsals, all contributing to the development of the actor he is today.

His favorite memory so far? Getting a call from his director saying he’s ready to be on stage.

“They called us late at night and they were like ‘Hey, so, the director thinks you’re ready and he’s going on tomorrow night.’ So I got the opportunity to perform at the Pantages [Theater] in California, on a Friday night in Hollywood,” Jackson said excitedly. “The major part of that was just knowing that [the director] thought I was ready and that I have matured. And that really just gave me a boost for “The Lion King.” And I was like, ‘I’m ready to do this tour!’”

Juggling auditions and playing as young Simba, Hayes found himself in a whirlwind of opportunities. A golden opportunity emerged when he was asked to audition for the role of young Michael Jackson in “MJ: The Musical.”

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“We spent the next nine months touring with the national Lion King tour. He went all over the country and he had the opportunity to go to Mexico as well,” Lori Hayes said. “He got an opportunity to audition for “MJ: The Musical” while he was on tour. They reached out, they brought him into New York to audition. He was offered an extension with Lion King, but he made the decision to come to Broadway and now he’s little Michael on “MJ: The Musical.”

Jackson Hayes gets cast for Little Michael Jackson for ”MJ: The Musical.” (Courtesy of Emilio Madrid)

Watching her son as “Little MJ” on the stage brought a sense of nostalgia, as he had previously been cast as little Michael Jackson at their local church, but that performance ended early and abruptly due to stage fright.

“For the first time ever Jackson got scared in front of the audience and would not do it,” she noted. “So the irony that he is able to now be MJ on Broadway and perform the song that he was supposed to perform that day, on Broadway for other people, is just amazing.”

Broadway’s Little MJ couldn’t believe his good fortune.

“All my dreams are coming true, I’m just very grateful”, he said. “I am a major Michael Jackson fan, so I feel super blessed that I got this opportunity to play little MJ, and I am the first Little MJ to [also] be named Jackson, so that’s cool.”

While he’s getting an early boost to his acting career on Broadway, his aspirations go beyond the stage. He hopes to stay active on Broadway, but also participate in TV, and eventually venture into producing his own projects.

“Well, I really want a show like “[Tyler Perry’s] Young Dylan], and I want to be on a TV show. I still do love Broadway and performing live, but I would really love to do movies and TV,” he said. “I’m making a musical called ‘Night of Regret.’”

Lori Hayes says making Jackson’s dreams come true required a leap of faith. She said she hopes his story encourages other families to take that same leap and believe in the potential of their kids.

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