In the winter of 2013, Lyn Philistine and Christopher Sutton took stage-parenting to a whole new level. At the time, the couple was working at the Walnut Street Theatre on the Broadway musical Elf. Philistine was the show's choreographer and played "Woman 1." Sutton starred as Buddy.
Offstage, the couple had a wholly new role: That of parents. Their son, Dylan, was just three months old when Philistine and Sutton made the less-than-conventional decision to cast him in the role of Baby Elf.
For a few select, packed-house performances, 12-week-old Dylan became the youngest-known performer in the history of America's oldest-operating theater. Four years later, the family is back for another run in another heartwarming holiday musical. Sutton and Philistine play crack-up co-villains Rooster and Lily St. Regis in the Walnut's production of Annie. (Rooster is the brother of main villainess Miss Hannigan. Lily is his bombshell sidekick, named after the hotel.) Dylan has been advising his parents behind the scenes.
Here, the couple dishes on how they "met cute," how they've survived and thrived as a theatrical duo (and trio), how Philly has grown on them, and where you can ogle their pride-and-joy's head shot.
Where are you from?
Sutton: I'm the oldest of seven, from Fenton, Mich. I got my union card in Oliver when I was 11.
Philistine: I'm from Pittsburgh and moved to New York as a child. I got my equity card at age 8 playing Kate, an orphan in Annie, alongside Martha Raye.
Sutton: We live in New York City, but Philly has really been a second home to us. The first show I did here was almost 20 years ago. I played Mickey in Blood Brothers at the Walnut in the spring of '98. Playing Rooster in Annie is my 12th role here. The theater puts us up around the corner, and we love it.
I assume you met on stage. But did you "meet cute?"
Sutton: We were in the Buddy Holly Story in New York. A week into rehearsal, all of a sudden, Lyn came through the door. I thought: She's nice. Eight months later, I auditioned for Sugar Babies in Connecticut and we were cast opposite each other as the secondary leads.
Sugar Babies is kind of a romantic show, and we became friends, and then close friends. I'll never forget the night we went to dinner in Little Italy, and we're like, 'Oh. This is a date.'
We've now been together 14 years and married 11 years.
And working together is …
Philistine: Really wonderful.
Sutton: Awesome. We did A Christmas Story here a few years ago, after Elf. Last year, we were in Wizard of Oz together at the Walnut. I was the Scarecrow. She was Glinda. We also worked together in the first national tour of Spamalot for four years. That was B.C. — before child.
And now that you're during child?
Sutton: We still love it. What's so different about Annie is we're partners in crime. Every time we're on stage, we're on stage together.
But not Dylan. Not this time.
Sutton: No. He made his debut here as Baby Elf. He was three months old to the day of opening night. At the end of the show, I ran out on stage with him in an old-timey buggy with the orchestra playing, a thousand people in the house, the bright lights … And I look down in that buggy and I see him, and he's looking up at me, like, 'Is it go time?' I lift him up, and the first thing he does is look out at the audience and kick his leg.
[Walnut] artistic director Bernard Harvard told me Dylan holds the record for the youngest actor they've ever had.
What does your prodigy do while you're in "Annie"?
Sutton: We spend breakfast, lunch, and dinner together as a family. For as tough as our business can be, after two or three weeks of rehearsal, it's the best.
Philistine: He also takes musical theater class at the Walnut. He's very verbal. We have a babysitter at night.
Sutton: The other night, he came out of the bath with his hair parted down the middle and mashed down like Rooster, with a penciled-in mustache (my wife did that), and he goes, 'Pardon me, Toots.' Not many 4-year-olds have that sense of irony.
Is next year kindergarten? Is there a plan?
Philistine: When he's ready for school, it could be in Philly, New York, or Chicago — or a little bit of each. It's very unconventional, the way theater families work. We have to travel, but we try to stay not too far away. We're going to sit down in January and figure it out. He's still little.
Philly's in the running, then?
Sutton: We love the Philly audiences. At the Walnut, we feel such a warmth and sense of family … I played football in high school, and this place is run like a team. At the beginning of each show, Bernard introduces everybody to everybody else. The entire building, the entire staff.
More than 100 people say their full name and what they do: the box office, the costume designers, the director. Everyone. I wish every theater did that.
And where can we see Dylan's head shot?
Philistine: Level two in the middle in this historic theater. How cool is that?
Sutton: It's just a random picture of him on a couch, looking off to the side.