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You Can Dance if You Want To: An Interview With Billy Elliot’s Tommy Batchelor

By Tony Peregrin in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 12, 2010 5:30PM

Giuseppe Bausilio , Tommy Batchelor, John Peter Viernes and Cesar Corrales share the title role in the Chicago production of Billy Elliot
Billy Elliot, the big British musical about a coal miner’s son who forgoes boxing in favor of ballet, glides into the Ford Center / Oriental Theatre later this month—but gliding isn’t the half of it, considering the show’s stunning finale actually includes a whopping 16 grande pirouettes (more on that later).

An original Broadway cast member when the show opened in November 2008, 14-year-old Tommy Batchelor was a former understudy for the show before joining the rotation several months later as the 4th full-fledged “Billy.” Occasionally eclipsed by the fame of the three original Broadway Billys, Batchelor—with his experience in the Broadway production—is now the anchor of the group in Chicago and has finally found his place in the spotlight.

Originally from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Batchelor began dance training at the age of four. “One of my instructors always told me I’d make it to Broadway,” says Batchelor. “But I think she thought I would be at least 20 before that happened,” he says with a noticeable grin.

The Chicago Billys did some fundamental training in New York at the end of last year, but rehearsals with the entire cast have been taking place at the Oriental Theater (and other locations in Chicago) since early January.

Chicagoist caught up with Batchelor during a recent break from rehearsals. Check out our full interview with him after the jump.

Tommy Batchelor rehearses for Billy Elliot
Chicagoist: Over 1,500 boys auditioned in the nationwide search for Chicago’s “Billy.” What was the audition process like for you, Tommy?

Tommy Batchelor: I actually didn’t go through as many auditions as most of the boys. I had one audition by myself, and then I had a call-back with six other boys—they told me right after that [that I got the part].

C: Were you a little nervous?

TB: Yeah, I was nervous! I had to pick out songs from the show to sing, and we did lots of improv in the audition, actually. I’d done improv on my own, but never in front of anyone else!

C: Did Elton John, whose music is featured in Billy Elliot give the Broadway Billys any words of advice?

TB: He’s really nice and sweet. He’s awesome! He said ‘don’t worry if you are nervous, it’s good to be nervous, because it adds to your energy level on stage.’

C: The Oriental Theatre is such an amazing facility. Are you excited to be performing here?

TB: I am amazed by it. The theater in New York [City] is so much smaller than this one. The Oriental Theater is a lot bigger, and the backstage is humongous!

C: So much of Billy Elliot is about how dancing makes “Billy” feel. Describe what it feels like when you’re dancing, Tommy.

TB: It’s hard to put into words. I always think of the song “Electricity” from the show, when Billy sings, ‘It’s like when you’ve been crying, and you’re empty and you’re full.’ There are a mix of emotions going through your body all at once.

C: I understand the finale consists of 16 grand pirouettes followed by a series of passé pirouettes—that sounds exhausting just saying that! How do you prepare for it?

TB: Yeah, the dance we do at the end is for “Electricity” and the whole show has built up to this part, this moment. You put all of your energy into it. We rehearse every day, and I always think about the notes and corrections the instructors have given me—and that helps me stay balanced and to stay focused.

C: Have you had a chance to explore the city yet?

TB: I went with a few kids in the show to the Shedd Aquarium, which was really cool, and we’ve been to the Field Museum, and I think we’re going to the Museum of Science and Industry soon—I’m really excited about that. I really liked Millennium Park and that big fountain. What’s it called? Buckingham Fountain? That was really amazing.

C: Do you ever get recognized in public?

TB: In New York, like sometimes after a show we go out to eat, and people will come up to me and say ‘I think I just saw you in Billy Elliot,’ and they’ll ask me to sign something for them or take picture. One time outside the stage door, somebody asked me to sign their shoes, because they didn’t have anything else to sign. That was pretty funny!

Preview performances for Billy Elliot begin March 18th.