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By Steve Hunter
Kent Reporter
September 2, 2011

Thirteen-year-old Adam Vesperman speaks with a British accent that he didn’t have five months ago when he left Kent for London. “I didn’t notice it,” Vesperman said during a return visit last week to Kent [Washington]. “Everybody else did.”

Vesperman had to develop the accent for his starring role as Billy Elliot in the London production of “Billy Elliot the Musical” at the Victoria Palace Theatre.

Vesperman made his debut July 25 at the 1,500-seat theater. He became the 27th boy and just the sixth American to play the title role in the seventh year of the production. The show tells an inspirational story about a coal miner’s son who gives up boxing and realizes his ambitions against the odds to become a ballet dancer.

“It was the best feeling ever,” Vesperman said about his debut. “I love doing shows.”

The musical is based on the 2000 film “Billy Elliot.” The production features music by Elton John, lyrics by Lee Hall and is directed by Stephen Daldry with choreography by Peter Darling.

Vesperman moved in April to London to train daily for the role. His contract runs through March 2012. He alternates the starring role with four other boys. He is the only American in the show.

“I thought it was crazy, but I was up for it,” Vesperman said about moving 5,000 miles to London for his first professional role.

He uses Skype to keep in touch with his parents Chad and Robyn Vesperman, his sister Delaney, 15, and his friends. Skype is the software application that allows users to make voice and video calls over the Internet. “It’s free and you can see him,” said Robyn Vesperman.

Getting his start

So how does a Kent teen end up starring in an award-winning musical despite no previous acting or singing experience?

It all started when Vesperman joined Kent’s Allegro Performing Arts Academy at the age of 7. He loved to dance around the house. He then began lessons from instructors Tonya Goodwillie, who owns Allegro, and Tiffany Miles-Brooks.

“We’ve got to give credit to Tonya and Tiffany and all they have done,” Robyn Vesperman said. “They have taken him under their wings.” It didn’t take long for the instructors to notice Vesperman’s abilities.

“Adam always has been a special kid in class since he was a young dancer,” Miles-Brooks said. “He was the most focused and had a strong work ethic at a young age. It was just a matter of time before someone snatched him up.”

The big break for Vesperman came during the West Coast Dance Explosion Elite dancer competition in July 2010 at Las Vegas. Vesperman won the national title for Junior Male Dancer of the Year with his ballet, jazz, acrobatic and lyrical abilities.

But it was during a competition break when Vesperman attended auditions for Billy Elliot that got him noticed. “It was just an off to the side thing,” Vesperman said of the audition. “A couple of months later they called back.”

That callback led to three straight days of auditions in December in New York where Vesperman had to dance, sing and act along with six other finalists vying to play Billy. Vesperman got the call in February that he was wanted for the lead role in the London production.

“It was such a big surprise,” Adam Vesperman said. “I didn’t expect it at all. It was completely out of the blue.”

What really caught the Vesperman family by surprise was the offer to go to London. They thought they were trying out for the New York or Toronto shows. “They never talked about London,” Robyn Vesperman said. “A lot of the roles go to the British kids first.”

Vesperman lives in a house with 15 others connected to the show. He also gets paid, although the family did not want to reveal how much he makes. “It’s a good start on college,” his mother said.

Life in London

Vesperman performs two to three shows per week. His family watched his debut. His mother or father visits him once a month.

“I was homesick really bad,” Vesperman said of his initial move. “I got over it pretty quickly.”

The family also had to figure out what to do about school. Vesperman left his seventh-grade class last spring at Mattson Middle School in Covington to move to London. “It was a highly unusual circumstance,” his mother said of dealing with the Kent School District and how to get her son through the seventh grade. “His teachers helped get him to the end of seventh grade.”

Vesperman works with tutors at his London home. He has enrolled in an online class to make it through the eighth grade by next summer.

“That was one of the hardest challenges was school,” his mother said. “But it has all worked out. You worry about kids going away but he’s doing well. His teacher has taught all over the world.”

It also was tough, of course, for his family to see their young son move so far away. “It’s an adjustment,” his mother said. “But we’re so supportive of him. He’s following his dreams and is at the professional level now with an amazing role to play as a child. We would like to see him more. I would see every show of his if I could. I have seen two of his nine.”

The toughest challenge for the Kent teen remains being so far from home. “It’s great to be home and see everybody,” he said prior to flying out Monday for London. “I’m excited to get back on stage. But leaving home again is not that exciting.”

Vesperman is on stage nearly 90 percent of the three-hour show. His parents had never heard him sing until they saw his Billy debut. “It’s not anything special, it’s just there,” Vesperman said of his singing ability.

It’s been a thrill for the Kent teen to star in a London production.

“I love the crowd,” he said. “It’s amazing when they laugh and clap. It’s cool and I feed off their energy.”

The 13-year-old also learned how to feed off a different kind of energy. He could not return to his London home after an Aug. 6 performance because of the riots that broke out in the streets over protests of the shooting death of a local man by police.

“He (Adam) called me and said they were leaving the theater but were not going home but were going to a safe place,” Robyn Vesperman said. “The (production) company called me, too.” The group stayed at another home for one night before returning to their main home. Rioters damaged shops but not homes. Vesperman didn’t see the rioters but saw cars on fire.

“In the show there’s a riot with the police and miners’ strike,” Vesperman said. “It was kind of cool to experience because we could tie that into the show.”

Bright career ahead

Although Vesperman expects to complete his contract to play Billy through March, he said the job could end sooner if his voice changes because he plays the role of a 12 year old. He plans to return to Kent when the contract ends.

“I’m coming back here and do what I normally do and see if there are other opportunities,” he said. He’s wanted to become a professional dancer. But now acting might be a future career as well. “I love acting, but dance is my thing,” Vesperman said. “But if anything comes across my path, I’ll try it out.”

Goodwillie expects the London role to greatly boost Vesperman’s career. “This opens up a lot of doors,” Goodwillie said. “If not right away, it will be huge on his resume.”

Goodwillie, who plans along with Miles-Brooks to travel this fall to London to see their student perform, knew Vesperman could go far. “He has a lot of natural talent,” she said. “We offer drama classes but we don’t have singing. A lot of it is his natural ability.”

Robyn Vesperman reads online reviews about her son. She discovered people like the show as well as her son’s performance. “All are very positive,” she said. “They don’t think he’s American. He has not let his American accent out.”

© 2011 Sound Publishing, Inc


    • John Davis
    • Posted October 13, 2011 at 6:07 am
    • Permalink

    I have seen Adam perform five or six times now in Billy Elliot and have to say that he is excellent.

    • Derek Williamson
    • Posted June 10, 2012 at 2:45 pm
    • Permalink

    I’ve seen the show now four times, and without doubt Adam was by far the best “Billy” we’ve seen. Congratulations young man you are superb !

    • Monika Kirschnick
    • Posted August 13, 2012 at 7:06 am
    • Permalink

    My children and I saw Adam perform in London last week. His performance was breath-taking and very moving. I’ve seen quite a few musicals in my life, but nothing has ever touched me as much as Adam Vesperman singing and dancing “Electricity”. Thank you so much Adam for showing us how beautiful life can be.

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