Being Lulu: Two Ottawa girls make the big stage in Waitress

The Lulus are Autumn Jae Boisvert (left) and Sofia Robinson-Stiermann. Photo: Peter Robb

The Broadway musical Waitress tells the story of a young woman named Jenna struggling to break free from an abusive marriage using her skills as a pie-maker to start a business, stand on her own two feet and raise her young daughter.

The musical is now on a North American tour and in every city the show comes to, two local five year olds are cast as the daughter, Lulu.

For Ottawa’s Autumn Jae Boisvert and Sofia Robinson-Stiermann, their moment in the sun is coming this week. They will alternate as Lulu in the eight shows being presented by Broadway Across Canada in Southam Hall. And if one gets sick, the other will have to fill in.

It’s an intense eight days, considering the two girls will only be rehearsed with the cast and fitted for their costumes on Tuesday. The musical’s team did send a little package of instructions that describe who the character is and what will happen.

Lulu appears on stage in the final scene of the musical. the same days not a really demanding role. Each child will respond to a question from a performer asking how many pies there are. Autumn and Sofia will reply ‘A lot’. And then they’ll greet their parent with a rousing ‘Hi mom’. That’s it, that’s all and that’s everything really.

Autumn’s mom Lisa Wagner Boisvert says her daughter does take part in performances outside school. Autumn is in senior kindergarten at Elisabeth Bruyere in Kanata. 

Lisa Wagner Boisvert and Autumn Jae Boisvert are getting ready to play Lulu in Waitress in Southam Hall. Photo: Peter Robb

She was just in a production of Chicken Little and Autumn has appeared a few times in front of people.

For the young girl, the idea of being on stage is pretty appealing. “I want to be a singer and a dancer and an actress. It looks like fun,” she said in the middle of burning off a whole bunch of energy running across the red carpet in the mezzanine lobby of the NAC with her new BFF Sofia.

Lisa says she thinks her daughter is picking up a bit of what she’s laying down. Lisa studied performing arts at the University of Sunderland in the U.K. She got a job straight out of university working on a Disney cruise ship. While professional work is harder to come by in Ottawa, Lisa does perform in productions with Orpheus and the Kanata Theatre.

“It’s my background. I think she hears me sing and sees me dance and she wants to be a part of that with me.” Lisa met her husband Francois in the U.K. “I can’t believe she’s gotten a break before me.

“If I’m just singing a song it’s, ‘Mommy, can I do that with you. I teach yoga and she wants to do that too.”

Lisa said she didn’t push Autumn to audition for this part.

“I don’t want her to do anything she doesn’t want to do.”

She heard about the auditions held for the role of Lulu and said said to herself, “You know what she’s the right age. Let’s see what happens. I booked the time slot before I told her because I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I then asked her if she wanted to do it and she was really enthusiastic about it.”

Both girls were chosen after an audition process held at the Dana Hanes Dance Studio on Nov. 15. More than 40 girls participated in the auditions, which were presided over by members of the Waitress company.

Lisa told Autumn she might not get the part, but even just auditioning was a good experience.

Autumn is an only child, but Lisa believes that there is something about the performing arts community. “It’s a bit like a family. And they learn discipline and dedication and get enjoyment out of doing something well.”

Sofia Robinson-Stiermann and her mom Shannon Robinson. Photo: Peter Robb

What was instantly obvious during these interviews was the instantaneous bond between the two Lulus.

Sofia Robinson-Stiermann said she was “so excited” to be playing Lulu. “I’m going to go on stage.” Sofia has been in Southam Hall before having seen a performance of Nutcracker.

She auditioned, she said, “because I thought it would be a cool experience.”

Her mother Shannon Robinson said Sofia likes to sing and dance at home. She also takes piano lessons and says she practices. She also studies hip hop, tap and ballet at Capital City Dance.

There’s no worry about hearing Sofia from the Southam Hall stage. She knows how to project, her mother said.

Her grandfather saw an advertisement for the audition on the newspaper and showed it to Sofia. She asked her mom if she could do it and Shannon said yes.

In the audition, Sofia did some singing and dancing. “She walked right in there and came out with a big smile on face,” Shannon said. Sadly she said she wasn’t allowed to watch.

“This is new to us. It’s great to see her try something. Right from very little, Sophia has liked to be the centre of attention,” Shannon said. “I think this opportunity is just allowing her to come into her own a little. It’s an experience that she can explore. She’s very interested in performing.”

Waitress is a Broadway musical with a serious subject at its heart. It’s about a single mom in a difficult situation.

Sofia may not get that yet, but her mom does.

“I am a single parent so I can relate to this, especially the idea of what parents do for their children.”

Sofia attends OMS Montessori school where her friends know about her role in the musical. “There has only been one request for an autograph from my niece’s boyfriend.”

Shannon said during the week she’ll be trying to keep Sofia grounded. But she’s actually not too worried about that.

Sofia is is sort of like my little old lady. She can be pretty mature and will probably handle it better than mommy.”

Broadway Across Canada presents Waitress
Where: Southam Hall, NAC
When: Dec. 31 to Jan. 5
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.