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The Harringtons put the ‘family’ in family theater

Their holiday tradition plays out on Waltham stage

Franklin’s Harrington clan, (clockwise from rear left) Laurie, Danny, Megan, Michael, Sean, and Julie, feel at home on the Reagle set. Franklin’s Harrington clan, (clockwise from rear left) Laurie, Danny, Megan, Michael, Sean, and Julie, feel at home on the Reagle set. (Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe)
By Lenny Megliola
Globe Correspondent / November 27, 2011
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Laurie and Michael Harrington thought it’d be a good idea for their 5-year-old son Sean to audition for the Reagle Music Theatre’s annual Christmas show at the 1,100-seat Robinson Theatre at Waltham High.

“I was terrified,’’ Sean says. “I screamed and cried.’’ He didn’t go to the audition. Two years later, when he was 7, his parents asked him again. Sean agreed this time, but with a catch: “I’ll audition if Dad does too.’’

Michael recalls his son saying, “if I can do it, you can, because you can sing.’’

Off the two went. Both got cast. Sean played an elf. Michael sang in the adult ensemble. That was 11 years ago. They’ve been in every Reagle holiday production since then, and have turned it into a family affair. Laurie, daughters Megan, 16, and Julie, 13, and son Danny, 9, have been in the musical revue “ChristmasTime’’ for years. They’re all in this year’s production except Megan, who is assistant choreographer.

The show, in its 29th year, opens with two performances Saturday and runs through Dec. 11.

Sean is a sophomore at Bentley University. He admits to being “a very nervous child,’’ prone to “crying a lot from first to fourth grade. Now I consider myself very confident.’’ Thanks to the Reagle stage. “I’ve done about 130 performances there.’’

Sean mixed theater with sports at Franklin High School, where he had big roles in three productions. He took private singing lessons for four years. “My mom said, ‘You’re good, you should stick with it.’ ’’

“He’s a good singer, very reliable,’’ says Bob Eagle, 76, Reagle’s producing artistic director, who founded the company in 1969 and taught in the Waltham schools for 44 years before retiring in 2000. He devotes all his time now to the theater, saying “I’ll do this as long as I can.’’

Sean played football at Franklin High. He also wrestled for two years, but gave it up when he was cast in the school’s production of “Into The Woods.’’ He did community theater, and sang with the New World Chorale in Milford.

Michael Harrington also was interested in theater and sports growing up. He played football at Murdock High in Winchendon, and had his own band.

“It was all about meeting girls back then,’’ he says.

“Music is a big part of his life, and he’s shared it with the kids,’’ says his wife.

During weekend performances of “ChristmasTime,’’ the Harringtons stay in a Waltham hotel. “It’s become a tradition,’’ says Michael. When the family moved from Waltham to Franklin in 2002, it became a 45-minute commute to the theater. Adults rehearse on weeknights, children on weekends. “The traveling is hard, but we made a commitment,’’ says Michael.

His wife was the last to get on stage in “ChristmasTime.’’

“This is my third year in the show,’’ says Laurie. “Bob Eagle saw me hanging around and said, ‘You should be in the show, too.’ ’’ When Laurie was a senior at Waltham High she was cast in a production directed by Eagle.

“Music has been a constant in our family,’’ she says. “Michael plays piano and guitar. Megan and Julie play piano and dance. Danny plays guitar and piano, and enjoys singing.’’

Danny, who also plays sports, is the youngest, “but he’s the star’’ in the family, says Sean. “He has no fear. He was in two of my high school productions. In ‘South Pacific,’ he played my son, which is weird.’’

“The first time in a show I was kinda nervous,’’ says Danny. “But I had my family around me.’’ He’s playing a Santa this time. He has lines and has to dance, which is the hardest part.

He can always get extra help at home from Megan, a sophomore at Franklin. Megan began dancing in first grade, and the art suits her. “I like being creative. I can do my own thing.’’

There’s nothing about performing that Julie, who’s in middle school, doesn’t like. She started in kindergarten. In the seventh grade last year, she was in “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown’’ and “The Wiz.’’

A wry smile crosses Michael Harrington’s face when he thinks about how it all began at Reagle, little Sean ever so reluctant, then mustering the courage to get on stage. “This shy kid who wouldn’t try out now sings solos,’’ he says.

For Sean and the entire family, Reagle Music Theatre has become a comfort zone. They’re elves and Santas, dancers and soloists. Harringtons all.

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