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By  Michael Morain
Des Moines Register
October 19, 2012

It’s hard enough to land the title role in “Billy Elliot.” It’s even harder to keep it secret.

Drew Minard, 12, of Clive did both. The national touring production gave him permission to announce the news earlier this week, nine months after he was tapped for the part. His Facebook page exploded with “likes.”

He grinned.

“Mom made me leave my phone in the car.”

Minard was just 3 when he pulled on his first pair of ballet shoes and has spent the last quarter of his short life dreaming of starring in the show about an 11-year-old English kid who discovers he’s much better at ballet than boxing. Minard was 10 when he flew to New York for his first audition, at the suggestion of Iowa City native Alex Ko, who played Billy on Broadway a few years back. Minard danced and sang well, the casting director said, but he was too short, just 4 feet 6 inches.

Two more auditions and four inches later, he is finally ready. But he’d better make the most of it. At 4 feet 10, he is just two inches shorter than the limit. One of the previous Billys had to quit after shooting up six inches over the course of his contract.

“I want to put a brick on my head. I want to stay short,” Minard said during an interview at his kitchen table. He looked like an ordinary kid — Nike T-shirt, black shorts, bare feet churning the air under his chair.

He and his mother, Michele, will fly to New York on Sunday, while his dad, Tim, stays home to hold down the fort.

The family plans to swap their Clive home for a local townhouse and buy an apartment in New York. It will make things easier when Minard auditions for whatever comes next. He has his eye on “Mary Poppins” and the stage version of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda.”

He’ll train for a few weeks in New York with another Billy, from Florida, before they hook up with the touring cast in Omaha. His first performance will probably be in Austin, Texas.

The seventh-grader has been Skypeing with Madison Barnes, an Altoona girl who joined the tour almost three years ago, for advice about how to prepare and what to pack.

He does his schoolwork online, too. He would have enrolled at Indian Hills Junior High this year but instead chose an online program because he knew he’d be hitting the road. The kids in the “Billy” cast have a tutor.

Like the fictional boy he’ll portray, Minard has been teased for his inter­est in ballet. He brushes it off now, but the experience — and the documentary “Bully” — prompted him to start an anti-bullying club at his former elementary school, Crossroads Park in West Des Moines.

He plans to donate part of his “Billy” earnings to the club and a local program called Dance Without Limits, for kids with special needs.

But that’s just the bonus. The best part of the whole deal, he said, is getting to dance a role that very few kids ever do.

“I think I’ll be No. 70 in the whole world,” he said. (Forty-eight pigs were used in the filming of the 1995 movie “Babe” for the same reason: piglets and tweens grow fast.)

Someday, if there is a reunion for all the dancers who ever played Billy, it’s unlikely any of them will have had more fun than Minard.

“I saw Alex dance, and I just wanted to be up there. I just wanted to be up there for two hours,” he said. “I’m just ready to get out there and do it.”

Copyright © 2012

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