Tag Archives: Billy Elliot

Josh, Jamie, Billy Elliot And Bedford

There have been a lot of stories lately about bullying.

This is not one of them.

Josh Suggs and Jamie Mann.

Josh Suggs and Jamie Mann.

Today’s stand-up-and-cheer story begins in April 2009. Jill Johnson Mann and her family had just moved to Westport, after 5 years in Madrid. When she searched for play dates for her son Jamie, Sharon Suggs immediately responded. Jamie and Josh Suggs soon became great friends.

In elementary school, Jamie discovered a passion: dance. He’s extremely talented, and dedicated himself fully to his craft.

As great as he is, it’s not always easy being a ballet dancer in middle school. Yet whenever Jamie was taunted, Josh — a popular, athletic, kind-hearted boy — was always there.

He literally stepped forward and confronted his peers — also not easy for a middle schooler to do. (Josh says he learned those strategies in the Kool 2B Kind program, at Greens Farms Elementary School.)

This winter, as the Bedford Middle School talent show neared, Jamie planned to dance. He encouraged Josh — a budding magician — to perform.

Josh had practiced his tricks for ushers at the New York City Ballet, when he watched Jamie perform. (How’s that for friendship! And Jamie has many other supportive friends, who have watched him dance at Lincoln Center.)

Jamie Mann (5th from left) with Bedford Middle School classmates (and friends since kindergarten) Jaimie Hebel, Maddy Edwards, Rachel Suggs, Josh Suggs, Maggie Moore and Ava Lacoseglio. They were at Lincoln Center, watching him dance in "The Nutcracker."

Jamie Mann (5th from left) with Bedford Middle School classmates (and friends since kindergarten) Jaimie Hebel, Maddy Edwards, Rachel Suggs, Josh Suggs, Maggie Moore and Ava Lacoseglio. They were at Lincoln Center, watching him dance in “The Nutcracker.”

But as “Bedford’s Got Talent”‘s first rehearsal neared, Jamie worried about how others would react to his routine. But he and Josh were in it together — he couldn’t back down now.

As the cast rehearsed, camaraderie — and excitement — grew. The curtain rose last month, a few days before school vacation.

Josh closed the 1st act with a mind-blowing magic show. His tricks were perfect — poised and professional. The audience loved him.

Josh Suggs works his magic at the "Bedford's Got Talent" show.

Josh Suggs works his magic at the “Bedford’s Got Talent” show.

Then — as the finale of Act 2 — came Jamie.

Casting aside any fears — hoisting an original “Broadway Billy Elliot” bag on his shoulder, and wearing Billy attire all the way down to his ballet shoes — the 7th grader proudly took the spotlight.

And made it his own.

He sang, in a Broadway-quality voice. Channeling Billy’s words, he used the show’s signature song “Electricity” to explain how he feels when he dances: “I’m flying like a bird…I’m free!”

Then he danced.

Athletically, spiritedly, beautifully, Jamie Mann danced his heart out, in front of an audience of middle school boys and girls.

It was a bold move. Jamie was doing something different.

His performance caught the eye of a theater website, This Way to Broadway. They wrote that from the opening moments, the Bedford youngsters:

proved they are different too—different from middle school kids of decades ago, the ones who would have sneered and teased a boy who dared to plie on a school stage.

The crowd roared with approval. “We love you, Jamie!” they chanted, as he began to sing: “I can’t really explain it. I haven’t got the words…”

They were Billy’s words, but easily could have been Jamie’s — trying to find a way to describe his heart swelling as his classmates validated his talents. “Go Jamie,” they cheered as he leapt and spun across the stage. The roar of applause at the end, after his series of a la seconde turns, was deafening. The sound traveled across social media for days to come.

Jamie has performed “Electricity” as Billy at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, alongside Broadway actors. No question, the experience was electric. But that evening, when Jamie danced for his classmates and their families, was also electric for everyone in the room. Especially for a kid who thought that kind of acceptance only came from a touchdown or a goal.

[Here is the entire “Bedford’s Got Talent” show. Josh performs his magic tricks at the 45:00 mark. Jamie is 1:33:30 in. Both are spectacular.]




Gina Rattan Makes “Music” History

Gina Rattan is too young to remember the last live musical on national TV.

It was “Cinderella” — back in 1959.

Gina graduated from Staples in 2004. Heck, her parents are probably too young to remember that show.

But the Staples Players alum knows all about the “Cinderella” now running on Broadway. She joined it in September 2012 as associate director.

Now — in a clever plot twist that’s almost too good to be true — she’ll be part of a history-making event. On December 5 (8 p.m.), NBC airs “The Sound of Music” — live.

It’s the first nationally televised performance of a musical since that long-ago “Cinderella.” And Gina is the associate director.

Gina Rattan, heading to work.

Gina Rattan. The hard hat is because the set was under construction.

The challenges are enormous, she says — and Gina knows from challenges. After earning a BFA from the University of Michigan, she served as resident director of “Billy Elliot” on Broadway. Part of her job: wrangling the 4 different pre-teen Billys.

Working with Carrie Underwood (the Julia Andrews role) and director Rob Ashford sounds easier. But staging the 1st live TV musical in over 50 years is far tougher than singing do-re-mi.

“The set for TV is so much bigger than a theater set,” Gina notes. “And we use several sets, on a huge sound stage. But the rehearsal space was so small. We really had a to adapt.”

In addition to stage blocking, she devised blocking for cameras. Auditions and pre-production began in mid-September. Rehearsals started last month.

Sound of MusicThe von Trapp children go to school for 15 hours a day, so finding rehearsal time was difficult. “With ‘Billy Elliot,’ we had a routine,” Gina says. “This changes every day. If I can make this schedule work, I can do anything!”

While all that goes on, another camera crew is filming everything. That’s for a behind-the-scenes “Making of…” documentary, which airs November 27.

Oh, yeah. The cast also found time to record a cast album.

But it’s all coming together, Gina promises.

“This is so unique,” she says. “The dancing is gorgeous, and the kids are fabulous.

“It’s very exciting: a beautiful live show with a full orchestra. Anything can happen. That’s what I love about theater.”

And that’s why an enormous audience is expected on December 5. The hills — and living rooms — will be alive with the sound of music.

Thanks, in large part, to the frenzied, but very professional, work of Westport’s Gina Rattan.



Gina Rattan And Her 4 Billy Elliots

When you or I watch “Billy Elliot” we marvel at the dancing, the energy, the predictable but uplifting story line.

Gina Rattan watches actors’ entrances and exits.  She listens to decibel levels.

And she does it in rehearsals and performances, night after night, week after week after week.

Gina is “Billy Elliot”‘s resident director.  She’s responsible for maintaining the Broadway show’s consistency.  She keeps it true to its original creative vision.  She trains new cast members.

And — because there are 4 Billy Elliots — she spends much of her time handling a quartet of 11-year-old boys.

The Westport native loves every minute of it.

Gina Rattan

Her road to Broadway began with Staples Players.  She assistant directed main stages, One Acts and studios.  Director David Roth gives his students plenty of responsibility, and Gina reveled in the opportunity to learn all about theater, develop strong bonds and produce great shows.

After graduating in 2004, she earned a BFA in directing at the University of Michigan.  Like Staples, it combines a superb theater program with strong academics.  Gina studied every aspect of performing, from a worldly perspective.

She moved to the Old Globe in San Diego, working on Shakespeare and musicals.  She got jobs in New York, and with “Little House on the Prairie:  The Musical.”  Last winter she returned to Staples, helping Roth with the One-Act Festival.

In May — just a couple of weeks after interviewing for it  — she started her “Billy Elliot” gig.  It’s her best, most intriguing — and demanding — job so far.

It was a baptism by fire.  Gina learned the show — the timing, tempo, blocking, cues and “emotional temperature” that spell the difference between success and failure — at the same time she critiqued it.

It’s a huge undertaking.  There are 51 cast members, and the staging is complex.  Fortunately, Gina says, “I’m not responsible for the dancing.”  Two resident choreographers handle that task.

She’s got enough on her hands.  The 4 Billys — each boy does 2 shows a week — must deliver consistent performances, though all are different people.

The Billys respond well.  “They’re terrific kids,” Gina says.  “They’ve become a pack.  And everyone once in a while one of them says something that makes me think ‘Wow, you really are 11!”

The demands on the boys are intense.  Besides continuous rehearsals — 10 blocks from the Imperial Theatre — the 4 Billys juggle tutoring, physical therapy, strength training and acrobatics.

“They run all over the place,” Gina notes.  “I have to look at the big picture, and make sure it all fits together.”

The rest of the cast and crew have been great too.  They share their knowledge of “the life of the piece” — something Gina missed by not being there from Day One.

“Collaborating with colleagues, working with kids, learning how it all fits together — that’s what makes this such an amazing show,” she adds.

Every day, Gina adds to her skill set.  Whatever she does next, her experience as resident director has given her career a major boost.

So what’s next?

“I have no idea,” Gina says.  “My contract is for a year.  Right now, I just know I have rehearsal in 20 minutes.  And a long day ahead!”

Be Billy Elliot

Hey Westport kids:  Got nothing to do over winter break?

Audition for “Billy Elliot”!

The national touring company is holding auditions this week at New York’s  Pearl Studios.

Want to be the next Billy?  If you’re between 9 and 12 years old, and no taller than 4-10, be there this Thursday (Feb. 18) at 10 a.m.  You should have strong dance, ballet and/or tap talents, as well as an unbroken voice.  It’s probably good to be pretty far from puberty too.

Auditions for Michael (maximum height 4-10; natural actor with a strong singing voice; “funny, a real kid”) and Small Boy (no taller than 3-7; “ability to listen on stage, concentrate, and not fidget”) take place Thursday at 1 p.m.

Girls get their chance this Saturday, Feb. 20 at 10 a.m.  The casting folks seek “a variety of sizes, shapes and types, with expressive character and lots of personality, not the traditional ballerina.”

Click here for further details.

PS:  “All ethnicities are encouraged to attend.”