Roman Engel (left, in red) rehearses with members of the Youth Ensemble and Associate Choreographer Greer Gisy. (Photo by Matt Pilsner.)

At 3 years old, Roman Engel found his calling.

“He just saw his sisters and decided he wanted to go up on stage, too,” Marie Engel said.

That stage was at University Heights Elementary School where sister Vanessa’s talent show took place. Roman begged and pleaded to go up on stage in-between acts to sing. Somehow he persuaded his way onto the stage, and he hasn’t left since.

“His acting is totally self-driven,” said Roman’s dad, Bruce. “He just simply loves to perform and we love to watch him be in his element whenever he steps on stage.”

Marie added, “People always told us we should get him into acting since he loved being on stage and loved performing.”

The Hamilton resident will be on one of the area’s premire stages this holiday season in a main role. Now 8 years old and a third grader at University Heights Elementary, Roman will star as Tiny Tim in McCarter’s A Christmas Carol. The local favorite will feature Engel in more than two dozen shows throughout December. It’s a role he has dreamed to play his whole life.

“I’ve watched Christmas Carol like 1,000 times, and I imagine being Tiny Tim,” Roman said.

No one in the family was involved in acting before Roman became interested in it. He took a short break after his unofficial debut at the University Heights Elementary School talent show, with his first role coming at 6 in Kelsey Theater’s A Very Kelsey Christmas. He played a role inspired by Alvin from the Chipmunks. He even had a little “r” on his shirt—for “Roman.”

‘I told my mom at 3 years old that I wanted to act, and she said to follow my dreams.’

Since a “Very Kelsey Christmas,” Roman has performed in “Willy Wonka” and “Babes in Toyland” at Kelsey. He is trying to break into commercial acting, and earlier this year tried out for a role in a Steven Spielberg movie.

“I like getting people’s attention and I just like being happy,” Roman said. “Performing makes me happy.”

His path to McCarter began in August 2016 during an open house, where Marie and Roman went to check out the space. Roman looked at his mother and said, “I’m going to be on this stage one day.”

That day came sooner than the Engels could have anticipated. A year later, his parents decided to take him to audition for McCarter’s prestigious Christmas Carol the first few weeks of September. And, there he was on that stage. Roman said he wasn’t even the slightest bit nervous.

“He just went in and does what he does best,” Marie said.

Rehearsals began immediately, and by November, they were scheduled Tuesday through Friday after school and all weekend with the full cast and crew. Roman is performing with a cast full of Broadway, regional and international credits. He is one of 12 local children selected for the production’s Young Ensemble. Another 25 local actors were picked for the Community Ensemble, including Hamilton resident Henry Miles.

With such experience around him, he has plenty of support. While learning his part, he was able to work with a dialect coach to perfect his British accent for the role. He also learned choreography and practiced with a voice coach, too.

Last year, McCarter revamped the traditional show, changing costumes to sets and everything in-between. This year, the transformation is complete, and the cast will put on a brand-new show.

Roman is certainly excited to perform at McCarter and enjoys being able to meet new people from all walks of life.

His parents will be in attendance at the opening, Christmas Eve and closing shows with a few more scattered throughout. They even volunteered as ushers to get a few more sneak peaks of their son. Both Vanessa and Brianna, his sisters, will also be coming to cheer on Roman.

“My family is really supportive and I love that,” Roman said.

As for the future, Roman hopes to capture the attention of the folks at Disney. Right now, his dream is to be in Descendants 3, a Disney Channel film about the descendants of Disney characters. The movie hasn’t even been green lit yet, but Engel is optimistic it will happen and he hopes to be involved in it.

“I want to be on Disney Channel,” he said. “I told my mom at 3 years old that I wanted to act, and she said to follow my dreams.”

A Christmas Carol will be at McCarter’s Matthews Theater from Dec. 5-31. For more information, go to mccarter.org or call (609) 258-2787.