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Utah actor, 15, moves from Broadway to Brandon Mull book promotion

Talon Ackerman has created prominent roles in the premiere Broadway productions of two musicals by famous composers. And he's performed in a diverse lineup of motion pictures that includes “Daddy Day Camp,” “Forever Strong” and “Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration.”

The Utahn is now launching best-selling author Brandon Mull’s new Five Kingdoms book series in promotional materials, which include a book trailer.

And he just celebrated his 15th birthday.

“Talon fit the central character of Cole perfectly, based on the artwork that had been done and his acting experience,” says Lowell Oswald Jr., who is producing the promotional video of Mull’s five-book series. “Talon had enough experience that he didn’t require a lot of hands-on directing. I’d walk him through the scene and give him some background on his character without overwhelming him. He was amazing at adapting to what we gave him.”

How does Ackerman assess his performance?

“They didn’t say I did anything wrong, so that was good,” he responds.

“No one had told me ahead of time who the character was or what the book was I was filming,” Ackerman said. “I knew the name of Brandon Mull but had never read any of his books. It was great to work with Lowell, who helped me learn who the character was and about the scenes I was going to do.”

Oswald, who had worked with Mull to market his acclaimed Fablehaven series, believes Ackerman looks like the Cole Randolph character the author created for his new young adult books. But Mull places less importance on the actor’s physical appearance.

“Part of the fun of making a book trailer or book cover is getting a chance to see how other people imagine my story,” Mull said. “The actors in the book trailers are never exactly how I picture the characters in my mind, but that’s all right. The illustrations on my covers and/or in my books never look exactly how I mentally see the story either.”

Anthony Lynn, who directed the actor when he played the role of Michael in the national tour of the Broadway musical “Mary Poppins,” echoes Oswald’s enthusiasm for Ackerman’s abilities.

“Talon is brilliant. Amongst the field of exceptional children, he is exceptional again,” Lynn said. “He’s a very naturally talented boy. Anything he sets his mind to he picks up and does very quickly. … He has a focus that’s really kind of beyond his years.”

Ackerman relates his “mind-blowing, once-in-a-lifetime” experience when he was cast in his Broadway premiere role as Young Clyde in composer Frank Wildhorn’s “Bonnie & Clyde.” He flew to New York City for an early morning audition and was then asked to return the same day for a callback. Ackerman and his mother, Michelle, realized they had just enough time after the second audition to catch their return flight to Salt Lake. He received word he got the part in the cab ride to JFK airport and had to return the phone call when the cell connection was lost in the Lincoln Tunnel.

And the producers wanted Ackerman to begin rehearsals the following day.

“We told the taxi driver to pull over, and we went to a McDonald’s and just sat there for about an hour trying to figure everything out,” he says. “I was just so shocked that I couldn’t even think straight. I’m glad my mother was there with me, but she was pretty amazed, too.”

With the producers making all arrangements, Ackerman was able to begin working on “Bonnie & Clyde” as scheduled.

“As soon as I got to the rehearsal room, the director started working with me on blocking, learning my song and working on my character. And I thought, ‘OK, this is a factory. I better get to work,’ ” he recalled.

Reviewers of his performance included such words as “excellent” and “terrific.” North Jersey’s The Record indicated Ackerman “sings powerfully and gives a spirited performance.”

Ackerman looks forward to Utahns seeing “Bonnie & Clyde” when Utah Repertory Theater Company produces the state premiere of the musical Jan. 17-Feb. 1 at the Lehi Arts Council.

“‘Bonnie & Clyde’ is not ‘Seussical the Musical,' but it is a very entertaining show, and Utah will really enjoy it,” he says. “It’s something I’m very proud of, and it was a tremendous experience to be able to perform in the show on Broadway.”

The real-life story of the notorious bank robber is dramatically different than the fictional life of Ackerman's Five Kingdoms character. He has yet to read a Mull book but plans to change that.

“As soon as I finish another book I’m reading for school, I’m going to read ‘Fablehaven,’ ” he says.

Simon & Schuster is hoping to encourage the habit of reading in young adults with its promotional work for Five Kingdoms. Along with the video, the publisher has commissioned Oswald’s Strillogy Productions to develop a companion video game that will require players to read the book in order to proceed in the game.

Mull also works to advance reading as a regular habit.

“I try to write the kind of books kids — or anyone — would read for fun, and I travel the country promoting reading in schools and libraries,” the author said.

“Reading enlarges our experience. Readers can access valuable truths without living through the required lessons. Kids who read for fun gain a huge educational advantage over kids who don’t. As kids learn to access information through words, they acquire information easier and score better on standardized tests. If I wanted to improve a kid’s educational experience, the first thing I would do is get him or her in front of fun books.”