"Big roles, ‘Big River"

Published: Thursday, January 26, 2012 7:00 am By: Pete Kramer Source: LoHud.com "In The Wings"
to Pennsylvania.)

In a narrative mirroring a scene in “Big River” — when two characters try to cheat Huck and Jim — FaTye says he then moved to the Fordham section of the Bronx “to be with some people who said they’d help me, but their idea of help wasn’t the most positive things.”

“I was swindled and conned into doing anything known to man, to survive,” he says. “They’d tell me: ‘This is what you have to do to eat tonight, to sleep tonight.’

“And it wasn’t always legal. It was like a Jean Valjean thing,” he says, invoking the character from “Les Miserables” who goes to jail for stealing bread to feed his sister’s children.

“I can only imagine how many stairwells I slept in,” he says. “But all along, I knew I didn’t belong there, living on the streets.”

The judge handling his foster-care case agreed. After FaTye missed more than a year of school, the judge sent him to Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry, a residential treatment campus for at-risk youth, to get his life back on track.

“That is where it all changed,” he says. “It’s where my life took a leap of faith, where I was believed in and given a lot of opportunities I had never been given before.”

It was there — at the campus’ Greenburgh 11 High School — that he was cast in his first musical, a freshman cast in the leading role of Sky Masterson in “Guys and Dolls.”

It’s where he met Sandra Mallah, of Hastings,his school’s superintendent, who was so taken with his talent that she helped him earn a scholarship to Broadway Training Center in Hastings and to pursue other training.

Along the way, their friendship deepened. She is now his godmother, and she and her husband, Sheldon, are co-producing “Big River.”

“I call her ‘Mennie,’ a mix of mother and mentor,” FaTye says.

Looking back on his foster-care journey, the actor is reflective, even grateful.

“I don’t recommend it for anyone, or for anyone’s child,” he says. “But I am who I am today because of it.”

Who he is today is a 24-year-old actor-singer-dancer dynamo who has studied at NYU’s prestigious CAP-21 program and at the American Musical Dramatic Academy, a man whose enthusiasm could give you a tan.

Who he plays in “Big River” is a man running for his life, opposite Huck, a happy-go-lucky character who is out on the river on a lark.

“Huck is more for the adventure of it all, the thrill of it all,” says Malchar, the man who plays him. “It’s a good-scary feeling, like hoping to get caught maybe.”

If Jim gets caught, the stakes are life-and-death.

Both point to different moments as favorites.

For Malchar, it’s the trio between Huck, Mary Jane and Jim, “Leaving’s Not the Only Way to Go.”

“It’s a really tender moment,” Malchar says. “Huck has this crush on this girl and he can’t be with her. He’s made a commitment to Jim. He can’t stay, but she wants him to. He knows what he has to do.”

For FaTye, the parallels between character and autobiography are at times unrelenting. The song “Free at Last,” he says, “is almost like re-enacting thoughts I had when I was 14.”

“When I get to the line ‘Thank God, Almighty, I’ll be free at last,’ it still hits me,” he says, his voice catching