Parrish idealBy John Berger
on stage, at home
Special to the Star-Bulletin
Summer vacation will amount to about 10 days this year for multi-talented Janel Parrish. The young actress flew home from Los Angeles last week after participating in recording sessions and preliminary rehearsals for "Gepetto," a Disney two-hour TV movie that will star Drew Carey as Gepetto, with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as the Blue Fairy and Seth Atkins as Pinocchio.
Parrish, 10, will portray a "perfect child" named Natalie who lives in Idealland, a village in which every child appears to be a parent's dream. When Pinocchio runs away from home, Gepetto travels to Idealland to get a replacement. All going well, the movie will air next May.
"I have a solo acting line and a solo singing line in 'Satisfaction Guaranteed,' " Parrish explained with the precision of a film industry professional over a shrimp-and-spaghetti lunch at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Shrimp is her favorite food and "Forrest Gump" one of her favorite movies. She was enthralled by the decor, recited several of Gump's homespun credos in character and rose to the challenge when a waiter tried to stump her with movie trivia questions.
Parrish names "Mulan" and "Aladdin" as two other favorite films because her favorite singer, Lea Salonga, was involved in both. "Titanic" gets her seal of approval, and she says that Catherine Zeta-Jones was so good in "Entrapment" that she'd like to see it again.
"I'd like to do films like that (someday)," she said.
Pokeman Pikachu, a gift from her grandmother, is one of her current passions. The electronic game will be her companion this summer while she completes the film. Her parents, Mark and Joanne, will juggle their vacation time so they each can spend part of the summer with her.
There's a sense of family camaraderie over lunch -- gentle teasing but obvious mutual respect between Parrish, her parents, and big sister Melissa -- that isn't always evident when a family contains a talented child or two (Melissa is attending West Point on an athletic scholarship).
Some showbiz kids get a good role or two and quickly cultivate off-putting attitudes, taking "cute" to cloying extremes or affecting inappropriately precocious mannerisms. Parrish is a delightful exception. She's as natural and unaffected now as she was when she blitzed the competition at the Oceanic Cablevision Kiddieoke-Plus talent contest with her rendition of "Think of Me" from "Phantom of the Opera," and then breezed past competitors to win the role of little Cosette in a national touring company of "Les Miserables."
Parrish appeared as Cosette here and on Broadway during a year with the show. She came home when she got bored doing it. She returned to the public eye distinguished herself in drama last fall when she co-starred as Scout opposite Richard MacPherson in Manoa Valley Theatre's production of "To Kill A Mockingbird."
The problem is, there aren't many such roles for pre-teen girls in local theater. She says she hopes to do more film work and more recordings.
"Recording is fun. We did a lot a takes but I don't think it was difficult. Doing movies requires patience but it's really fun if you want to do it."
In the meantime, Parrish continues to study acting, singing, piano, and tap and jazz dancing. Her role in "Gepetto" involved folk dancing. She says she now enjoys that too.
Piano practice isn't always her favorite activity. "I enjoy it, sometimes," she said. "I know it will help me in my singing, and being able to read music will help with my (song) writing."
School is always a priority. An 11-hour day on the set in Los Angeles includes three hours studying with a tutor. California requires work permits for child performers, who must maintain a minimum grade of C in all subjects. A minimum of a B in each subject is required for theater work. Parrish must also keep up with her assignments and homework at Moanalua Elementary as well. She does so via fax.
"They fax homework to me -- a lot of homework," she explained dramatically.
"We've always told Janel it's up to her," Mark said, proud of his daughter's success but in no way a "stage parent" who lives off a child's reflected glory. He and his wife speak with equal pride of Melissa, who also has only a few days off this summer after completing her plebe year at West Point. The girls are making the most of their days together.
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