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Tampa sisters Milly and Abigail Shapiro take Broadway by storm

Abigail Shapiro, 13, right, and Milly, 11, rehearse a cabaret act at 54 Below, a New York supper club. They perform there May 21.
Published May 7, 2014

TAMPA — Milly and Abigail Shapiro, the tiniest of Broadway stars, assembled around the piano in their Tampa home. They had the market cornered on cute — not much bigger than dormice, teeny spectacles, posture straight out of Miss Porter's.

The sisters have both had lead roles on Broadway. Milly, 11, played the title role in Matilda. Abigail, 13, played Cindy Lou Who in Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas in 2012 and 2013. On Saturday, they'll perform in Wesley Chapel at Saddlebrook Resort for Broadway Comes to Tampa, a benefit for the New Tampa Players.

To demonstrate their skills, they were going to sing. Maybe a little Annie? The sun coming out tomorrow?

"Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend. Do it in the name of heaven, you can justify it in the end. But there won't be any trumpets blowing come the judgment day, on the bloody morning after one tin soldier rides away."

Yes, the wee ones busted out One Tin Solider, the 1960s counterculture ballad about war, death and consequences, performed in perfect two-part harmony without a blink. They had heard it on the '60s satellite radio station their dad likes, which they listen to when they're not listening to the Broadway channel.

They like Monty Python, Lemony Snicket books and the black and white Mickey Mouse Club. They don't really watch TV, "Because, well," Milly said, "TV rots your brain." They said all this while their mother, Michelle Shapiro, sat quietly at the counter doing work for her Silicon Valley job, only interjecting when the girls asked her to help them remember a name or date.

It was clear what we had here. In a social media society, a bumping and grinding Mileytopia, the Shapiro sisters are a throwback, a study in real theater people. Polished and mature, a little offbeat and a little old-fashioned.

So far, it's working for them.

"Some of my friends didn't really get how big it was," said Abigail of being on Broadway. "But then, I think they do now."

The sisters were born in Tampa. Abigail, their mom recalls, used to ride in her stroller and stare up at the clouds, then just start singing. They saw a number for voice lessons on the side of a car and signed her up. Milly was just as verbose. She loved to sing Evanescence's Call Me When You're Sober, except she was only 3, so she changed the lyric to "silver."

They got involved with Entertainment Revue, the local group known for producing American Idols. They did plays, including Annie, in which Abigail was too short for Annie, but got the role of Molly. Milly was in the show, too.

"I was background orphan to the background orphan," she said. "I was nameless orphan in the background."

The director suggested performing arts summer camp in New Jersey. The camp was expensive, so the girls sang at the St. Petersburg tennis club where their dad, Eric Shapiro, played, and made a video on Facebook to raise money. They got to camp, where their future manager spotted them. That's how they found out about twin auditions in New York, one for Grinch and one for Matilda.

Abigail: "I was too tall for Matilda.

Milly: "And I wasn't a good enough dancer for Grinch."

Abigail: "It was my first audition. I thought, it's probably not going to happen, let's just see what the auditions are like and everything. And then I kept getting callbacks and then the next morning in the hotel I heard I got the part. I was actually in the lobby. I stood up on the table and I was screaming and jumping around with Milly."

Milly: "And I was like, 'Stop jumping on the table.' "

Abigail played Cindy Lou for four months, part in Boston and the rest at Madison Square Garden. Milly shared the part of Matilda with three other girls for more than a year. In 2013, all four Matildas got an honorary Tony for their work, and a cast Grammy nomination.

These days, the girls split their time between New York and Tampa, going to school full time in New York and spending breaks in Florida. Their parents are divorced but each still have homes in Florida, trading off traveling back and forth with the girls. They just wrapped a cabaret show at 54 Below, Broadway's Supper Club, to raise money for anti-bullying causes.

Between the two of them, they have appeared on Live! with Kelly and Michael, the Wendy Williams Show, Fox and Friends and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Yet ask about all that, the fame and the lifestyle and meeting Selena Gomez, and they seem generally unimpressed.

When the Matildas toured Paramount Studios, Milly's friends freaked out to see the cast of Glee.

"You shouldn't be freaking out about Glee," she told them. "Lucille Ball sat on this grass. That's why you should be freaking out."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716.

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