The multi-award winning Billy Elliot the Musical tells the historical tale of a community in strife caused by a miners' strike in County Durham, in northeastern England, balanced against the fictional tale of a lad named Billy.
The strike took place in 1984-85 as part of the Margaret Thatcher-led government's attempt to bust the coal union. Billy is a tween who finds a love for dancing and is thrust into a competition to get into the Royal Ballet School of London.
The strikers are a rough group, filled with blunt-speaking, action-oriented men. Billy does not fit into their mold of what a boy should be. The community expects him to be a boxer, not a ballet dancer.
When artistic director Scott Spence, choreographer Martin Céspedes, and musical director Larry Goodpaster decided to stage Billy Elliot the Musical as the Beck Center's highlight summer musical, they knew they were undertaking a major series of high hurdles.
The casting required two boys, Billy and his friend Michael, to be not just acceptable dancers, but proficient ones, who can perform ballet, tap and modern dance. Billy must also be an exceptional actor and singer. The casting must also include an older Billy who has grown into a star ballet dancer, and a cast who can produce the difficult northeastern English accent. And, the score for the musical, which is by Elton John, requires a large pit orchestra.
Since no local boys could reach the performance levels needed for the roles of Billy and Michael, a national search was undertaken. From the many recommendations by agents and submissions of videotapes and interviews, 12-year-old Houston native Seth Judice (Billy) and 13-year-old Maurice Kimball (Michael), from Vancouver, were selected.
An interview with Seth and his mother (Robin) revealed that the youngster started dance lessons at the ripe old age of 17 months. His mother, who teaches dance, and his aunt, who is also a dance instructor and runs a performance studio, were his first teachers.
"I really liked dancing," Seth said. "I don't like sports; don't like to get dirty. Dancing was the cleanest thing I could do."
He not only wanted to do it, but he showed early levels of high proficiency, winning Houston's Petite Mr. Star Quest, a performance competition. He followed that by winning the junior-level competition.
Because of his performance and lesson schedules, being the subject of bullying, and having Irlen Syndrome, a perceptual disorder which centers on the brain's ability to process visual information (some may think of it as dyslexia), Seth is home-schooled by his mother. He reads with special glasses, but generally he learns his lines by oral drill with his mother reading them aloud. Fortunately, his high functioning intelligence allows him to quickly grasp both the lines and dance routines.
Does this dynamic young man miss not being a "regular" kid due to his time-consuming regime of ballet, tap, contemporary dance, acrobatics and tumbling lessons, and not being in the social environment of a traditional school? "No," says Seth. "Doing theater makes me realize how much I don't want to be a regular kid." He does have cyber friends and has social contacts with dance and theater acquaintances. Fortunately, the parents of the only child agree with his assessment.
He recognizes the financial commitment his parents have made for him, as well as the time his mother and father spend to support his dreams. (His mother accompanied him to Cleveland and transports him to all rehearsals.)
He's got a natural background for the part. Seth was in a Memphis production of Billy Elliot, playing the part of Michael. He was also in the national tour of A Christmas Story, the Musical, portraying Grover Dill, bully Skut Farkas' sidekick.
The downsides? "Not many, other than I'm on stage almost the entire time so it's difficult to be able to drink water."
He strongly identifies with the "Billy" of the play, as "we both really want what we do and do what we want. My philosophy is: If we want to do it, we will do it!"
In Cleveland, where he is living with his mother in a house provided by Beck, he "goes to rehearsals, works out, does ballet, plays video games, and sleeps." He said that after the show opens, he'll finally have time to explore the city. He is especially looking forward to going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his father, when his dad comes to town to see the show.
And how does his mother, Robin, view her son's quest for stardom? As a dance instructor who performed professionally and was a Houston Texans' cheerleader, she understands Seth's drive and is happy that she and her husband can support him.
What advice would she give the parents of other kids with stars in their eyes? "Let them pursue their dreams. Let them do it," she said. "Do what you can to help them grow, as people and performers. Give them the necessary tools."
You can see Seth, Maurice and the rest of the Billy Elliot the Musical cast from July 7 through August 14 at Beck Center. For tickets, call 216-521-2540 or visit beckcenter.org.
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