You have to be grown-up or nearly grown-up before you can pitch for the Orioles, fly a 747 or run for president.

But you can perform on Broadway when you're a kid. The theater needs children to play the roles of children.

Last month, Tiana Kenney, 11, of Cheltenham, Maryland, completed a year's run as Young Nala, the girl lion cub in the Broadway musical cast of "The Lion King."

Getting the part was a dream come true, for sure. But it was also the end of a lot of hard work and the beginning of even more.

Tiana started thinking about acting when she was in kindergarten. At age 5 she started dance lessons. At 6, she started acting in school plays and singing in the chorus at her church. "I took every chance I could get," she says. "I loved the attention."

She later performed in a play at the Greenbelt Arts Center.

At 6, Tiana also got a manager (someone who knows about show business and helps you get parts). Then she started trying out for professional acting jobs. She got a part in a radio ad for Springfield Mall. Next came a TV commercial for Giant Food. "It was great seeing myself on TV. All my friends were calling at the same time. They said 'Tiana. Tiana. You're on TV.' It was awesome."

Tiana tried out for lots of parts she didn't get. "That's the thing about the business," she says. "You can't get discouraged. You have to keep trying and trying."

She auditioned six times in New York for "The Lion King" over a year and a half before she got a cell phone call from manager Linda Townsend in December 2001.

"Tiana, Santa Claus has just come down your chimney," Townsend told her. "You're going to New York. They've chosen you and another girl for 'The Lion King.' "

Tiana and her mom started crying. "We couldn't even shop after that . . . I called my uncles, my aunts, my cousins," Tiana says. "Everyone started crying."

When "The Lion King" role came through, Tiana and her mother moved to New York. Tiana was home-schooled by her mother and had a tutor so she wouldn't fall behind in her schoolwork. Tawana Kenney says pay from the show covered living in New York, with a little left over for her daughter's college fund.

Tiana says she felt fine before her first Broadway performance, "up until the last five minutes" before she went on. Then she became very nervous -- until she actually got on stage.

On stage, fright took over. "At first it was really scary," Tiana says. "It's dark in the theater. All you see is a bunch of heads. . . . Then you get used to it."

Occasionally something would go wrong. Once, she recalls, the motor that moves the sets broke. Young Nala and Young Simba (the boy cub) were supposed to run around a forbidden graveyard among the bones of dead elephants. But on stage, there was no graveyard or bones.

"The stage manager came out from behind the curtain shouting, 'There's no bones. There's no bones,' " Tiana remembers. "We had to improvise. We were running all over the stage trying not to fall through openings in the floor."

She especially loved signing autographs for kids after a performance. "They line up at the stage door. I would take off my makeup and come down and say hi to everyone. They took lots of pictures and I would give backstage tours." (Helping her to give tours sometimes was Kiah Victoria, 11, of Cheverly. Kiah alternated as Young Nala during Tiana's second six months in the role.)

Was there anything about the experience she didn't like? "I missed my friends a lot," says Tiana, who stayed in touch with e-mails and instant messages.

Of course, Tiana didn't have much free time. Besides doing schoolwork, she rehearsed five days a week, six hours a day before she made her Broadway debut Feb. 6, 2002. Normally, the show keeps children for six months. Tiana was asked to stay for another six months.

Tawana Kenney is proud of Tiana, but she didn't have half as much fun in New York as her daughter. Broadway was "tiresome," she says. "All I was doing was sitting around waiting. I drop her off. Come back. Take her for dinner. Pick her up at the end of the show. Drop her off. I couldn't work."

Tiana's last show was Feb. 2. She and her mother now are in California looking for other show business opportunities.

"What keeps me going is knowing she's having a good time," says Tawana Kenney. "When the day comes that I have to make her rehearse or when she tells me she's not having fun, it's over."

-- Fred Barbash

Maryland's Tiana Kenney, 11, has been in commercials and "The Lion King" on Broadway. "At first it was really scary."Tiana spent one year as Nala in Broadway's "The Lion King."