They love being Billy because they are real-life Billys: bullied ballet dancers turned hometown heroes.
“Billy Elliot,” the Tony Award-winning musical based on the 2000 film of the same name, centers around Billy, a talented English boy who grows to love ballet as his family and neighborhood suffer from the U.K. miners’ strike in the 1980s. Billy’s dreams of attending a ballet school are threatened by his father’s disapproval.
“Let’s get started,” says Matthew Prescott, resident choreographer. “We’re already late. It’s Friday.”
Kylend Hetherington, 14, and J.P. Viernes, 15, break into the YouTube-famous Rebecca Black song: “Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday!”
They spread out on the floor to stretch alongside Zach Manske, the 12-year-old from Minnesota who will join the show in Washington, and Lex Ishimoto, 13, who played Billy the night before. They approach the barre and glide from first position to fifth and back again, almost in slow-motion, as if they’re dancing underwater. Piano versions of musical standards play on Prescott’s iPod and Forhan, whose love of Broadway music cannot be overstated, sings along to the hits from “Les Miserables.”
Prescott motivates with Oprah-style maxims. “These are your bodies, take charge of them. It’s all an extension of you, of your personality. There’s no reason for you not to come in here and express yourself.”
Lex and Zach immediately start snapping like the Jets in “West Side Story” and break into one of Billy Elliot’s most gleeful songs, “What’s wrong with expressing yourself? For trying to be free? If you wanna be a dancer, dance!”
“Yes!” Prescott claps his hands. “That is what the whole show is. That is what Billy is about.”
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Lex wants to make it very clear: “There is nothing going on between me and one of the Ballet Girls.”
The BGs, in cast shorthand, are eight ballerinas between 10 and 14 who make up Billy’s dance class in the show. They don tutus and pigtails while doing some heavy theatrical lifting, performing in seven of the show’s 15 numbers. They are exactly as cute as they sound. But the boys would like to reiterate: the relationship is strictly professional.
“There’s nothing going on,” says J.P.