March 11, 2014
Tommy Batchelor, who starred in the Tony Award-winning musical Billy Elliot on Broadway and in the First National Tour will join the cast of Short North Stage’s upcoming production of The Who’s Tommy as a featured dancer. The musical is the inspirational story, based on the classic 1969 rock album by The Who, about a deaf, dumb and blind boy who becomes a celebrated pinball wizard. This rock opera is a perfect fit for the energetic and spontaneously creative young man, whose explosive style mirrors the driving rhythms and passion of The Who’s music.
Batchelor, now an 18-year-old dance major at the Ohio State University, has been dancing since he was five-years-old. He was inspired by a seeing a documentary about the legendary tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson starring Gregory Hines.
At twelve-years of age he was spotted by scouts for the Broadway production of Billy Elliot at a Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest international ballet competition for young dancers. After auditioning, he was offered the role of understudy to Billy and sent to London with the original cast for training.
“Overall those days were a lot of fun, but they were definitely tough,” he recalls. Along with the three other Billys who were to rotate performing the role on Broadway, he not only had to learn all the dances, but also take singing lessons and study the dialect of North Eastern England, where Billy lived.
“The rehearsals never stopped,” he recalls. “The show is very hard. The physical stamina is only part of it. The mental stamina required for a 13-year-old to carry a three-hour show is a lot more than most 13-year-olds are used to-especially if you’ve never acted or sung before.”
Tommy welcomed the life style of a Broadway show kid. For one thing, it freed him from what he considered the boredom of normal schooling. The many other young performers in the cast-boys and girls-created a strongly bonded social life. And the producers provided tutors for the cast both in New York and on tour. After leaving the show in late 2010, he decided against returning to normal high school life, getting his high school degree on line, while living part time at home or with friends in the New York City area.
So how did he find his way to OSU? He first became aware of Columbus when asked by Bart Freidenberg, a Columbus resident who saw him perform Billy in Chicago to sing the national anthem at the annual Tournament of Champions here. Tommy also took in an OSU-Nebraska football game while in town. He was so inspired by the professionalism of the Buckeye marching band, that he investigated the celebrated dance program at OSU.
“My journey has been finding my own voice in dance-discovering myself,” he says. An older colleague advised him: “If you want to become your own artist, then go to OSU.”
When asked if he’s happy with that choice, Tommy flashes a big smile. “I’m always looking for something new, and right now OSU is it.”
OSU dance program offers him great challenge he currently, and he is not looking much beyond college. He doesn’t think he wants to be a professional dancer, but knows that dance will always be integrated into his life, perhaps as a choreographer or entertainer. He’s currently intrigued by dance film. “With film you can capture perfection-repeating a sequence until you get it right.”
What brings Tommy to the stage at the Garden? For one thing, he misses musicals and a friend in his dorm mentioned the auditions to him. “A fellow cast member, David Bologna, played in the musical Tommy in New York and I thought it could be a lot of fun. Musicals are a great form a storytelling and a great way to see life. They help keep you from getting trapped in normalcy. It’s nice to walk down the street with a song in your head.”
Tommy’s role in the Short North Stage production will be as a featured dancer throughout the show. Director/Choreographer Edward Carignan plans at least one dance solo for him-the opening of the second act, a choreographed pinball game with projections, where he will dance with an actual pinball.
The Who’s Tommy opens with a preview on April 10 at 8 p.m.. Performances are at 8 p.m. on April 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25 & 26. Matinees at 3 p.m. on April 13, 20 & 27.
© 2014 Copyright Wisdom Digital Media