FOX 47 Sits Down with Stars of 'Billy Elliot'
"Billy Elliot the Musical" opened at the Wharton Center for the Performing Arts January 15th, 2013, and runs through Sunday, January 20th. Click here for show and ticket information.
Ben Cook, who plays one of four Billy Elliots on the national tour, and Janet Dickinson, who plays dance instructor Mrs. Wilkinson, stopped by the FOX 47 station to chat about their experiences with the Tony Award-winning musical.
STEFANIE POHL: Ben, you're 15 years old and the film version of "Billy Elliot" was released in 2000, when you were still quite young. When did you become familiar with the film and subsequently the musical version?
BEN COOK: I got to know the movie when I was about nine years old. I saw the movie, and then right after I saw the movie I found out that there were going to be auditions for the musical. That's when I thought 'oh great!' and went on a few auditions. My first audition was almost six years ago.
POHL: Janet, when did you become familiar with "Billy Elliot"?
JANET DICKINSON: I saw the movie in 2000 - it's a fabulous movie. Many times people will come up to me and say it's their favorite. The great thing about the movie and the musical is that they are directed by the same director (Stephen Dauldry), so he was able to really let this thing have a different life and make it come alive on stage. I auditioned for the Broadway show years ago, but then got a part with the national tour.
POHL: What is it like being a part of a traveling company?
COOK: It's tough constantly traveling and only being in a city for a few days. But it's a lot of fun, because it's different every week. A lot of it keeps you on your toes, so it's pretty cool.
DICKINSON: We're hitting some great cities in Canada and in the United States, so it's a lot of fun. It can be grueling, traveling every week, but it's a great group of people. There are 16 kids, so the traveling company has a great vitality to it. It's a big family.
POHL: Janet, your character primarily interacts with the young cast members, between the girls in Mrs. Wilkinson's class and Billy. How different is that for you to work with them as opposed to the adult members of the cast?
DICKINSON: It is odd! I'm on stage with the ballet girls and then Billy, and there's a different Billy every night. So every night is really is something new and a little different. I have a couple small scenes with the adults - it was weird when I first came into the show because you don't have much interaction with the adults. But I like it because there's this vitality to it.
POHL: How does the rotation of Billys work for each performance?
COOK: Each night, say for example if I'm on as Billy, one of the other boys will be on standby in case I get sick or hurt halfway through the show, they'd be able to go on. You'd be surprised how often that happens. And then the next night, the boy who was standby will be on, and there will be a standby for that boy.
POHL: Janet, does that rotation of actors each make it more difficult or is it just different?
DICKINSON: It's fun. It's a different energy each night. All four of the boys are really phenomenal, and they each have their strengths. There are different moments I enjoy with each of them, and it keeps you on your toes. A couple of the Billys are new, so they aren't as set into their performance. There's always that element of not quite knowing what is going to happen.
POHL: Ben, what was it like to learn the variety of dance genres and moves required for the part?
COOK: It's very tough. The learning process for the show, especially for the Billys, is very difficult. Right now they're doing it as a five-week process in New York. You never actually lose any of the choreography, or forget it, but it's difficult sometimes when you're tired one night because the show's so demanding - especially for songs like "Angry Dance" or "Electricity." But it's cool because we're constantly adding new things. Just recently, we added the flip off the piano - we just added that a few weeks ago.
DICKINSON: They're always trying to stretch them and keep them invigorated in their performance. The thing about the role of Billy is that it's this incredibly intense role: singing, dancing, and acting. And these kids only two it twice a week, but their number one job is to be rested and ready to perform. It's quite a responsibility, but they're up for the challenge.
POHL: Ben, did I see a hint of Beyonce's "Single Ladies" dance at the beginning of the show? Is that something that you infused into the part?
COOK: Yes, during the Boxing Dance I do some of the Beyonce dance. Pretty much all of the Billys in that part, and some other parts, do something different. Especially in "Electricity": it's choreographed to that Billy's strength.
POHL: What would you say is your favorite part of the show, and also the most difficult?
COOK: "Angry Dance" probably. That's probably one of my favorite parts to do in the show, but at the same time it's so hard, because stamina-wise it's very difficult. Getting through the last half of the whole number is very difficult. I love doing it because it's very cool. It's one of my favorite things to do, but also one of the hardest.
DICKINSON: For me, the first act is hard, but I love doing all of those scenes. The hardest thing in the show for me is to really be ready to do it. To feel rested and have a little caffeine in me. It's a really big responsibility - these people are paying money to see the show, and you want to give them 110% every single night. It's a job, and you're there to do that. And you want to give it your all every single night.
POHL: You're originally from New York and Washington D.C. - how were you able to conquer the northern English accents needed for the show?
COOK: We have a dialect coach that comes in for the new actors, and he'll teach us the dialect and the accent. After that, it just gets drilled into your body. You can say pretty much anything in the accent.
DICKINSON: It becomes music, they just learn it like music. It is a difficult accent to do. We're doing a bit of a watered-down accent, we have to admit. People [in the audience] had a hard time [understanding] at first, so they watered it down. You want people to understand what you're saying.
POHL: Being young and on the road with the national tour, Ben, do you feel like you relate to Billy's journey as he prepares to leave home?
COOK: Yeah I can see that. I haven't lived at home in about three and a half years. It's been difficult not seeing them, but I can relate to how Billy feels at the end. He'll be able to see his family of course, but not as often.
Be sure to catch "Billy Elliot the Musical" at the Wharton Center through January 20th, 2013. Click here for show and ticket information.