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Posted By Graeme Moffat, Special to The Nugget
North Bay Nugget
Photograph by Bruce Zinger, National Ballet of Canada
January 5, 2010

 

As Christmas wishes go, a Broadway debut must rank among the greatest for performers.

That’s what North Bay’s Liam Redhead received recently when years of hard work culminated in his first performance in the title role of the Broadway production of Billy Elliot, the Tony Award-winning musical that has captivated audiences since its 2005 debut in London’s West End.

As the newest actor/singer/dancer to have the starring role, Redhead, 14, wowed a raucous New York Christmas crowd in his Dec. 23 debut at the Imperial Theater, earning a standing ovation.

The story, which follows a coal miner’s son in Northern England from his discovery of a love of dance in tumultuous times to the Royal Ballet School in London, provided a unique challenge in his debut performance.

“I had to portray mean and angry when I just really wanted to smile,” he said.

Redhead, who got his start at the Barbara Treleaven School of Dance in North Bay before studying at the National Ballet School in Toronto, has enjoyed a rise to the title role of Broadway’s fastest-selling hit show, winning the President’s Cup in competition at Dance Educators of America and performing in the National Ballet of Canada’s The Nutcracker in 2007 and 2008.

The narrative of Billy Elliot, a boy inspired to dance amidst poverty and a national strike in Margaret Thatcher’s England, first won an Academy Award as a film in 2000 and later won high praise for its adaptation to stage, incorporating a score by Elton John that Redhead mastered.

Although he had almost no experience with acting and singing before beginning work on Billy Elliot, Redhead was encouraged to audition for the show by his former dance teacher Pippa Madigan. The show’s choreographer and director “saw Liam’s dance technique as a real gift,” his mother, Janet, said.

“His background in both tap and ballet made things much easier for the show and the directors to work with, and Treleaven Studio gave him the key assets,” she said.

Since arriving in New York, “he has been able to tap into a lot of really talented people to help him along” in developing a variety of skills, said Janet. These have included some of America’s top singing and voice coaches and an acting coach from the original London production flown in to work with him.

In his debut, Redhead delivered his lines with a North England working-class accent. Learning the accent “was really hard at first, but it’s second nature now,” he said.

In addition to the gruelling endurance challenge of nearly two hours on stage and several show-stopping song and dance routines, Redhead has learned to portray the progression from novice dancer to his big, knock-’em-dead finale as a ballet phenom.

“I just looked backward to dance class and tried to re-learn the whole process,” he said in describing the experience.

Redhead and his mother have been in New York preparing since early September. When the time came for his debut performance, “I almost had to pinch myself and say ‘that’s Liam up there!'” Janet said. “I hadn’t been allowed to watch the rehearsals, so it was surreal and a bit nerve-wracking.”

Though he still struggles with stamina in the second half of the performance, his debut was celebrated by audience and crew alike, and after a prolonged ovation from New York theatre-goers, a roar of approval was heard from backstage when the curtain came down.

Redhead, however, is modest, quick to deflect praise, and credits his colleagues and friends.

“Things worked out better than I expected,” he said in describing his first show, “Everyone’s so nice and the crew is so supportive.”

Redhead will perform as Billy Elliot through early June with the possibility of an extended run through August. He expects to return to the National Ballet School in September.

 

© 2010 , Sun Media

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