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His Archie not Just a Comic Kid

October 8, 2008 By:
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Photos by Joan Marcus

Archie's a bit of a jughead.

Disabled and devilish, he's the one character in "13" who sums up everything about what it means to be mean and green -- and sweet -- at that age, using his disability as a crutch while clutching on to whatever hope is allowed him in Indiana, where the Indie 500 could be the name of the group of other kids at school who run him off the road at day's end.

And Aaron Simon Gross as the outsider gives such an outside-the-box performance that the producers must have their own glee club, so happy are they to have chosen him for the complex part.

Making his Broadway debut, Aaron is making quite an impression as the debilitated but strong-arming Archie, who would cause the devil to check the fine print on the contract after negotiating a Faustian deal. The kid's pitchfork perception is pitch-perfect in the part.

But then, his Archie is not just a comic: The young actor's special talent is that not only does he steal the show, he steals your heart.

Even at 13, this is no petty larceny; the musical's cast is greatly ingratiating, as they travel the bumpy ride to a Bar Mitzvah staged in a state where "Jew" not so coincidentally rhymes with "Who?"

At 13, having a Bar Mitzvah is old hat -- make that kipah -- to Aaron, who had his last year at B'nai Torah in Boca, where the Florida fete featured many of his friends -- unlike the onstage ceremony, where Archie is one of the few to attend Bar Mitzvah boy Evan's function.

"Sure, he's manipulative and he plays up having a terminal illness, but Archie could really be fun to hang out with," reasons the able-bodied actor who makes him so.

Ironically, Aaron may be more familiar with the Ark of triumph than the others on stage: "It's funny, but in Boca, it seemed that nearly everyone in school was Jewish. And here, on stage, I'm one of the few Jews amid the cast and crew" -- and his character for sure has never tasted a tongue sandwich.

Well, not in the Jewish deli sense, anyway.

He can make sense of it all because Aaron has "been going to Jewish day schools since I was young" and took on his first play at the playful age of 6 "at my local JCC."

And, as far as that not-so-far-away Bar Mitzvah: "I did the longest Haftorah portion and the second longest Torah portion. I stayed home for a year studying and didn't do any theater that whole year."

He's making up for it now. While he has a number of regional and off-Broadway credits, Aaron is off and running on Broadway these days with a part that will have those beautiful Bettys and vixenish Veronicas clamoring for him at the stage door.

And while he's hoping that "13" will go on and on on Broadway, eventually, he will head back to Boca and high school, savoring the highlights of hitting it big now on Broadway.

Not that this is it for Broadway's "It" kid; just because a tallit is his co-star doesn't mean he'll be relegated to fringe festivals.

Aaron's got a good head on his shoulders and a soulful of talent. And he's learned a lot this past year while being able to teach others. As the Evan on stage -- who is not Jewish -- has a Bar Mitzvah prayer to recite (abetted and coached by the show's creative staff), Aaron didn't mind helping out a bit, too, with pronunciations.

"Yeah, I helped just a little," he laughs.

Time to throw the candy: Aaron, 13, today you are a man ... and a mentor.

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