Billy Elliot's Boy Actors on Taking Turns and Flying
14 year-old Daniel Russell is one of four boys playing the title role in Billy Elliot The Musical.
The 13-year-old speaks five languages, comes from Switzerland and wants to shoot a gun for the first time when he comes to Texas. The 14-year-old comes from New South Wales, and is looking forward to Houston because it's warmer ("like Australia") and because he wants to check out NASA.
Together they make up one half of the four-boy rotation of dancer actors who play the title role (of the miner's son who discovers he loves to dance) in the national tour of the Tony-award-winning Billy Elliot the Musical coming to Houston's Hobby Center on February 23.
Giuseppe Bausilio speaks Portuguese, Italian, French, German and English. When he was four, his mother began teaching him extra languages, as well as dance. He learned English later, "from a little book," he says, adding that it took him four months.
Daniel Russell always thought of himself as a dancer, but after performing as Billy in the Melbourne production before coming over to the United States, he now thinks musical theater is the way to go.
Both boys inherited their dance talent naturally; with both sets of parents running dance studios in their home countries. Daniel is accompanied by his "Nana," Anne Carey. "She looked after me in Melbourne as well," he says. Parents shuttle back and forth to spend time with both boys.
Three tutors accompany the 20 kids in the show, who come with all different curriculums and grade levels ranging from 3 through 12. Bausilio says he's home schooled, taking virtual classes in English. He'd like to stay in the United States for awhile, he says.
The musical differs in several ways from the 2000 film starring Jamie Bell (now seen all grown up in The Eagle). Besides the obvious -- music moves to the forefront, and there's a lot more of it and more styles of dancing as well -- the story structure changes. Instead of the grown-up Billy appearing only at the end as he does in the movie, he shows up halfway through the musical and dances with his younger self, Giuseppe says.
Another crucial difference is that both boys "fly" on stage - something each of them talked about with great enthusiasm. "We get to do some aerial work when we go up on a high wire which is naturally fun," Daniel says. Asked if he was ever scared of it, he replies: "I was the first time. I was terrified, but I love it now." As for Giuseppe: "It was just exhilarating."
There needs to be four Billys because someone might get sick or injured performing this very demanding role, Giuseppe says. The Billys rehearse together and get along pretty well, Daniel says. "It's healthy competition," he says, inspiring each other to do better and better. "We're best friends."
Both boys gave Art Attack some words of wisdom:
"I've got my friends at home I don't get to see, so I miss that even though I get to keep in contact with them online and that," Daniel says. "It's the people -- the place is something you can live without until you go home and see it again -- but the people are really who you miss."
"Can I just give a little advice to every single actor out there who wants to do anything? Just wherever you are whenever it is always look your best and give your best," Giuseppe says.
Billy Elliot the Musical, brought to Houston by Gexa Energy Broadway and Theatre Under the Stars runs February 23 through March 13 at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For tickets call 713-558-8887 or go to www.tuts.com or www.broadwayacrossamerica.com.
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