A play opening this weekend at Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis stars one of the Twin Cities' brightest young talents.
"Last Stop on Market Street" tells the story of a young boy's trip to visit his grandmother, and what he learns in the process. It's based on the award-winning children's book by Matt de la Peña.
In the play, 7-year-old CJ has been sent to visit his grandmother in the city. It's the first time he's stayed with her alone. He misses his parents and his comfortable life in the suburbs.
Thirteen-year-old Alejandro Vega plays the part of CJ. He said CJ might come across as a spoiled brat at first, but he's just dealing with his own anxiety and missing home. His grandmother challenges him to stop hiding behind his headphones and get out into the world.
"He learns that there's more to life than just hiding your emotions," Vega said. "He just slowly finds that finding different types of people will help you add character to yourself."
If Vega sounds incredibly poised and insightful, it's because he is. He's also exceptionally talented. "Last Stop on Market Street" showcases his acting, dancing and singing.
Greta Oglesby, who plays CJ's grandmother, said there are challenges in sharing the stage with a young actor who performs at such a high level.
"Sometimes I get caught up in the scenes, because he's just so good," she said. "And I go, 'Oh, I've got a line! I've got something to say,' but I'm so engrossed in what he's saying or singing — oh my gosh, and his singing voice is extraordinary. Yeah, come just to see him. I'm serious — he's that good."
Vega has been earning praise at multiple theaters in the Twin Cities. Over the past four years he's been in such shows as "Peter Pan," "The Wizard of Oz," "Oliver," "Gypsy" and even the opera "The Shining." Earlier this year he had a starring role in Theater Latte Da's musical "Five Points," for which he had to tap dance and speak with an Irish accent.
Vega, who attends Minnetonka Middle School East, said it can be a challenge to balance his acting career with his homework, but his desire to keep acting motivates him to keep up his grades.
"Minneapolis should consider itself extremely fortunate that he's still here," said Henry Godinez, who directs "Last Stop on Market Street." He said Vega isn't just a budding star; he's already in full bloom and will only get better.
"I'm old as dirt and have been blessed to work in this crazy business a long time," Godinez said. "And he is extraordinary — and he is definitely Broadway caliber. He's the real deal."
And, Godinez added, he's just a really great kid. Because the play includes a scene in which CJ volunteers at a soup kitchen, the cast went and worked at a soup kitchen as part of the rehearsal process. Vega said it was a worthwhile experience.
"I know I've always wanted to do something like that," he said. "If you can do it, please do it. It's just so awesome and it's an amazing experience, no matter where you go."
"Last Stop on Market Street" features one boy's journey of discovery; for Alejandro Vega, it's clear the journey has only just begun.