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Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday, April 12, 2009

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Tommy Batchelor’s dance teacher predicted he would be on Broadway. “But she thought I would be at least 20,” said Tommy, laughing.

Now 13, he is one of four boys playing the lead role in Billy Elliot, the hit musical on Broadway.

Tommy, whose home is in Palm Beach Gardens, was spotted by a talent scout in 2007 at a ballet competition in Orlando and joined the show in May 2008. He officially became the fourth Billy in March.

With music by Elton John, Billy Elliot is based on a 2000 British movie about a boy from a working-class family in northern England who wants to be a ballet dancer. A hit in London and Sydney, Australia, the musical opened in November to raves in New York.

It’s a classic heartwarmer: Young boy beats the odds to fulfill his dreams.

Like the character he plays, Tommy Batchelor knows what it means to be devoted to dance. When he was 3 years old, he saw a television biography about the legendary tap dancer Bill Bojangles. “I said, ‘I want to do that.’ ” said Tommy.

He started dance lessons at age 4 when his family lived in Minnesota.tommy-batchelor-13

After moving to Florida, Billy attended U.B. Kinsey/Palmview Elementary and Bak Middle, dancing at both. Jane Beck, his teacher at Kinsey, called him “a choreographer’s dream. You ask him to try something and he says, ‘OK’ and does it.”

For three years, he has taken dance classes at Palm Beach Ballet Center in Lake Park four days a week. “He was first of all in love with dance,” said ballet center owner Joan Miller.

Tommy was so eager to dance that dance coach Stacey Downs had to order him to stop some days. “He’s like a racehorse, he just goes,” said Downs. “He has a great heart, he’s very emotional, very expressive. And I’ve never met such a quick study.”

Stamina is important for the role. “The Billys carry the show,” said casting director Nora Brennan. “They are onstage almost three hours, doing ballet, tap, gymnastics, singing and acting. It’s a very demanding role.”

The other X-factor is stage presence. “You should see Tommy hold an audience,” said Downs.

Ed and Rebecca Batchelor have adapted home life around their son’s big break. Rebecca and Tommy live in a fourth-floor walk-up in upper Manhattan. They ride subways downtown to the Imperial Theatre.

Ed, a math teacher at Seminole Ridge High School in Loxahatchee, and Eddie, Tommy’s older brother, visit New York when they can.

Tommy’s week includes academic tutoring, dance, singing and acting lessons, rehearsals and physical therapy. He plays the lead twice a week and is on standby in the theater two more days.

 

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Casting director Brennan is continuously auditioning new Billys. As soon as one of the current stars starts to look and sound like a teenager, he has to be replaced.

Until that day, Tommy Batchelor is just enjoying the thrill of performing, the autograph seekers, the standing ovations.

He’s not even disappointed that he won’t be eligible for a Tony nomination. That honor, if it comes, would go to the three boys who opened as Billy in November. With the offhand candor that only a 13-year-old can manage, he says, “I think I’ll have other chances.”

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One Comment

    • Emma
    • Posted July 2, 2010 at 8:13 pm
    • Permalink

    I saw him perform yesterday night. He was AMAZING! And really cute! (I’m the same age!) He’s really talented!


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