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Razzle-Dazzle 'Em

David Bologna on making it to Broadway with 'Billy Elliot'
Robert Faires, 4:38pm, Tue. Dec. 11, 2012
photo by Sandy Carson
David Bologna dancing on air, 2012

When the Chronicle sat down with David Bologna to talk about his time in the original Broadway cast of Billy Elliot the Musical, the Austin song-and-dance phenom had a lot to say – more than we could squeeze into the printed interview. So here's a fuller version. The national tour of the musical opens at Bass Concert Hall today.

Bologna's road to the Great White Way and a Tony Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical at the age of 14 began in New Orleans and includes a stint as a championship Irish dancer, being the go-to kid in his hometown's theatre community, his family's move to Austin following Katrina, and months of auditions before he won the role of Billy's best bud, the irrepressible, cross-dressing Michael.

Austin Chronicle: How did you get started on Irish dancing?

David Bologna: I was 6 years old, and we had gone to the Beau Rivage, which is a casino theatre in Mississippi, and we saw Lord of the Dance. And for some reason, I fell in love with it, and I said, "Mom, Dad, that's what I want to do." A friend of the family – a priest, Father Billy O'Riordan, who's actually from Ireland – got me the videotape of Lord of the Dance, and I used to put it in the VHS player, and I would try and copy what they were doing. I would do that in my parents' room, by myself, with no one watching – I made sure there was no one there – and it was so much fun. So one night, Father Billy came by, and my parents said, "David, show Father Billy your Irish dancing," So I showed him, and Father Billy goes, "He could be a champion." And they're like, "Yeah, right, Father Billy." And he goes, "Seriously. He could be a champion." So they found a school for me, and it just took off. I started doing competitions in New Orleans, and then I found a school in San Antonio. My mom and I would fly there once a month for lessons – we were still in New Orleans – and I'd do a weekend of dance classes, then I'd fly back and work on it on my own. At the time, I was like, "Yeah, I'm flyin' to San Antonio for dance lessons." Now, as I think about it, I'm like, "Oh my goodness. I can't believe they did this."

I won regionals, I won national championships, and I finally went to the world championships, and I placed fifth.

AC: How old were you?

DB: The first time I went to nationals, I was 10. Ten and 11 I won nationals, then I went four times to the worlds. I think it was 10, 11, 12, 13. Every year we flew to Ireland.

AC: Was competing at that level intimidating at that age? Or did it seem like flying to San Antonio for lessons, that it was just your life?

DB: The bigger the competition got, the more pressure set in, especially for the world championships. That was fun, but I definitely felt the pressure when I went there. I was definitely very, very, very nervous. It's so competitive. People don't realize how competitive Irish dancing is. It's very cutthroat.

AC: So were you Irish in a past life?

DB: That must be the only explanation, because I have no Irish blood in me whatsoever.

AC: Were you developing an interest in musical theatre at the same time?

DB: Yes. I started Irish dancing when I was 6. I started theatre when I was 7. My first show was The Music Man, and that was at Dominican High School, [my mother's] alma mater, actually. She was good friends with the director and the stage manager, and they needed a little boy to play Winthrop Paroo, so they came to my mom and asked her, "Do you think David would be willing to audition for the show?" And she said, "Yeah, I think so. I'll talk to him." I'd never done any acting before. I had sung, because she directed her church choir, so I'd sing along every now and then, and obviously I'd danced, [but] I said, "Yeah, why not? I'll go audition." And I tried out with the stage manager's son, [who] was playing Harold Hill, and I think right away they could tell we had a great chemistry and I just kind of fit right there on stage. And that was my very first time doing a full musical onstage.

AC: Was it hard to squeeze in theatre shows while you were training for Irish dancing?

DB: [My parents] were the reason I could do all this. They made it happen, and they thought out all the logistics. And they never overbooked me. They made sure that I always had time to just be a kid and relax.

To this day, they always say, "We're not going to make you do something that you don't want to do." They give me the lowdown and say, "This is what it's going to take. You have to be willing to put in this work. Once you commit to it, you commit to it." Driving that into me at a young age has helped me now as a teenager to know on my own when enough is enough. I can do this, I can't do this. They've been a really great part of that.

AC: What was involved in the move from New Orleans to Austin? How tough was that for you?

DB: For me, honestly, it was not that hard. I was 10 years old. Yes, I had tons of friends in New Orleans. I had kind of a reputation there in theatre that I had to leave behind. But my parents made it as seamless as possible. Their focus was to get me in school again and to start making life seem normal again. We had one or two weeks where we were in a hotel, waiting for Katrina to blow over, waiting for news that we could go back home or move. I think they just wanted to move on from it as fast as they could. And they did a phenomenal job, because my memories of Katrina and their memories and my brother's memories – my brother was actually a senior in high school during Katrina, which I can't even imagine being a senior and having that year ahead of you and having to move – their memories are completely different than [mine]. At 10, you don't understand that at all. I was just happy being with the family when we were in the hotel, because the whole family was there. And I remember those memories more than the trauma of losing a city and losing memories and all that.

AC: So you're the fresh-faced kid in Austin, nobody knows you, you gotta break into the scene. How did your performing life in Austin begin?

DB: I was actually really reluctant to start it at first. Coming from New Orleans, where I was so used to being recognized and being the kid to go to if they needed someone to play a role, and coming to Austin, where I had to start over and start from The Music Man again, basically, I was so scared. I held out till December. KidsActing [was] doing Beauty and the Beast. It was a show that I had done before, and I was still scared. But I talked with my parents, and I said, "Okay, I'll go ahead and try it." And once I got into kidsActing, it didn't stop. I did Beauty and the Beast, and then summer came, and I did another show, Bugs, and then I did more and more and more kidsActing. I did a show at Zach Scott Theatre. The hardest part was just that initial push to start over. Once that happened, it was natural again.

AC: Was there anything distinctive about your kidsActing experience that felt encouraging?

DB: KidsActing, it's such a special place. From the moment I walked in the first day, I was making friends. It really is such a great environment. All the praise, all the resources, everything that it gets, it truly deserves because it's such a great place, you know, for people like me who maybe lost their home or don't really have that many friends, or someone's different and doesn't feel accepted. When you go to kidsActing, you feel like you're a part of something. You really feel the sense of community.

AC: So how did the Billy Elliot thing happen?

DB: I was doing a production of Grease, at kidsActing actually, and we were at rehearsal, and a friend of mine turned to me and said, "David, have you heard about these auditions for this show called Billy Elliot?" I was like, "No. What's Billy Elliot?" She goes, "Oh, it's some new Broadway show, and they're having auditions in Dallas." She said, "I thought of you. It's about a kid who wants to dance, and he sings and acts and all that. You'd probably be great for it. You should go up and audition." So I told my parents about the audition, and they thought, "We could try that. Why not?" I was excited to do it, but it was kind of like just another audition.

At the time I was still Irish dancing. I had never tapped, I had never done ballet. I had only done Irish dancing. And Billy is first and foremost a ballet dancer. So I went up, and the acting portion, I did fine on. The singing portion, I did fine on. And we got to the dancing – the ballet was a little foreign, [but] I think I did pretty well. Then we got to the tap section, and all the boys brought out their tap shoes, and I brought my Irish dancing hard shoes. If you've never seen them, they're kind of like tap shoes, except they have these huge fiberglass heels and soles, so they're noticeably different from everyone else's shoes. I asked the choreographer, "Is it okay if I use my Irish dance shoes?" And they said, "Yeah, that's fine." So the tap section I was fine on, because tap is very, very similar to Irish dance – at least the hard shoe part – except it's more loose and lax. It's kind of like if Irish dance took a chill pill. So I got the tap, and I finished the audition. I was nervous as all get-out that day, because I felt so inexperienced for some reason, which is funny.

AC: Had you done any kind of professional audition like this before?

DB: No. It wasn't that intimidating – it was just a dance studio and there were only three or four people up there – but because it was a kids audition, they tried to make it as carefree, as "let's make this fun, let's not make this cutthroat-Broadway-musical-theatre audition" as possible. And they totally succeeded in that audition and in my callback auditions for Michael. [They] felt so not like an audition, which was really special and probably something I'll never get again.

AC: When it was over, were there any signals that they wanted you to go further or go to the next level?

DB: I don't think I saw anything. Nora [Brennan], the casting director, called and said I didn't get the role – I had auditioned for Billy that time – and I was like, "That's fine. That was kind of expected." But she told [my parents], "Keep me updated. Get him into tap. Get him into ballet. We'd love to see what he would do once he gets training in that." Of course, I continued with my Irish dancing, continued with my other theatre stuff, didn't really give it a second thought. And they've told me that periodically she'd call, she'd email, and ask, "How's he doing? Has he gotten into tap and ballet?"

The first time I auditioned was 2007. Then April of 2008 – it was my dad's birthday – Nora called my dad and said, "Rick, how's David doing?" He said, "Oh, he's still into Irish dancing, still doing his shows." She said, "Okay. We have a callback for the role of Michael going on in New York. Michael is a tapper, and David really excels in the tap, and we'd love to see what he would do trying out for a different role." I had about two weeks to prepare. Actually, it's funny because about a month or two before we had gone to Ireland for the World Championships, and we had a layover in London, so we went and saw Billy Elliot. I didn't even think that two months later I'd be auditioning for it again. I was like, "Sure, that'd be fun. I'll go and try it again." But the nerve-wracking thing for me was that it was a callback. The other 11 boys that were doing that callback had been auditioning for Michael from the beginning. They had learned the steps, they had done music, they had done acting, and I was like, "I am going to be so behind." So we had a choreographer from one of my shows at Zach Scott, Adam Roberts, come and do a tap dance crash course with me for about a week. He would come every night, and we had a plywood floor in our dining room, and he would show me, "This is a brush. This is a shuffle. This is a wing. Try this combination." It helped so much when I got up there. It boosted my confidence. Adam was a godsend in that.

While the audition was going on, [my mom] was having surgery, so she couldn't go up with me. Mom was always the one who took me on these trips. My dad went up with me, which was foreign in a sense, because Dad never worked with me on my music or my dancing or my acting or anything.

The first round of auditions, it was 12 of us. They split us into groups. The first day, they told one group, six people, that they hadn't made it. From there, they had us do more dancing, more combinations, more acting, more singing. Then they went from six to four boys, and from four down to two of us. And that was all in the span of that weekend.

AC: I'm breaking into a sweat just listening to this!

DB: So Sunday, they coached us on what we were going to have to do at the next callback, which was two weeks later. So we flew back home, worked on more stuff with Adam. We had videotaped the tap combinations so I could practice them at home with Adam, did them again and again. Worked on my scenes. Worked on my singing. Then two weeks later, went back up for the audition. Flew up with my dad again. We did that full weekend, the other guy and I, working on Friday and Saturday, and Sunday was our final audition ever. They called us in one at a time to do it for everyone: the production team, the creative team, the director, the choreographer, the stage manager, everyone. That was the intimidating part.

AC: Where was this?

DB: A dance studio. We were at Chelsea Studios down in Chelsea, obviously, in Lower Manhattan. I still remember the studio, and I remember Nora coming to say, "Okay, it's time," and bringing me to the bigger studio and walking in and seeing everyone and going, "Okay.This is it. Don't do anything you regret. Just do it normally. Do what you've been doing with the assistant director. Just do what you know you can do." And I guess I did. I laid it all out there.

AC: The difference between performance and audition – it's very hard for a lot of performers to respond to those situations the same way. The judgment factor is so high in the audition process that it's hard to let go of that mentally. Were you able to let go of that?

DB: They had one of the Billys come in with us to do the scenes with us when we were auditioning – the Billys had already been chosen at that point – and I think the biggest thing for me in letting go at that point was having the Billy there: David Alvarez, who I got to know really well once we did the show together. Even though I didn't dance with him or sing with him, I just did the scenes with him – honestly, that was nice just to have a kid there. I wasn't the only 13 year old in the room. That helped a lot. The mark of a true performer and a true artist is to be able to let everything else go and be fully 100 percent absorbed in what you're doing and truly not give a care about what anyone else is going to think or say. And that's especially hard in an audition, because they do give a care what you're doing, and they're scrutinizing every little move to see if you're right for the part. But somehow having him there comforted me and let me absorb into that moment and get lost in it.

Also, they were very responsive. They would respond a lot if I made a joke. Michael is supposed to be very funny, so I had worked with the assistant director to see what I could do that would make them laugh. And it worked. So having them laugh and having them respond made me feel comfortable, too.

AC: So then what did they do?

DB: After my last thing – I think it was the dancing – they said, "Okay. Great. You'll be hearing from us. Thank you very much." So I said, "Thank you," and we left, and that was it.

AC: So you just fly back and wait. How long before they let you know?

[David's mother, Holly Bologna, is with him for this part of the interview and supplies the date: May 22, a little more than two weeks after the final audition. The call came to David's father, Rick Bologna, at work, and he went to Holly and said, "They want him. This is really going to happen." David was 13 and had been bugging his parents for a cell phone, and Rick used that as a way to tell David that he got the role.]

DB: I had asked, "If I get the role, I may need a cell phone, because I'll be living in New York. It'll be kind of crazy. He said, "We're gonna go to the store tomorrow and look at cell phones. You wanna come?" And I was like, "Do I need to come?" And he said, "I think you're gonna need a cell phone." And it took me a moment. I was like, "Huh?" And he said, "Buddy, you're going to New York." And that's when I was like, "Oh." And they started crying. I started crying. We hugged. It was a moment of speechlessness. What do you say?

AC: And they said, "You need to be here …"?

DB: June 30. That was our first rehearsal, June 30.

[Holly notes that she moved to New York with David, and the two of them lived in an apartment she sublet in Long Island City.]

AC: Was there anybody else who was not a New Yorker?

DB: Yes. The other guy who played my role, Frank [Dolce], was from New Jersey. David [Alvarez], one of the Billys, was from Canada. Trent [Kowalick], one of the other Billys, was from New York, Long Island. And I think Kiril [Kulish], the other Billy, was from California. So we were actually from all over.

AC: So you weren't the only one who was uprooted.

DB: Definitely not. And then also we had all the Ballet Girls, too, who were around our age. A lot of them came from all around, too, which was neat. We were all kids living the dream and doing what we loved to do.

But it was definitely very hard, and I think one of the hardest things was balancing school with rehearsals, because we'd have them every day. We would do a three-hour dance rehearsal or a four-hour scene rehearsal, or we'd run the show, or we'd run scenes of the show in the theatre. But before and after that, we would have school, so balancing that with rehearsals was the craziest part. But having the other kids there – the Billys and the other Michael and the small boys and the tall boys and the ballet girls – helped immensely in making it feel kind of normal. If I had been alone, it would have been very different.

AC: So let's get to opening. What do you remember from that?

DB: Opening night was one of the greatest experiences I think I've ever had ever. There was some sort of magic – I can't describe it any other way – some sort of energy that night that I don't think was ever matched in any other show.

One of the best things about that night was the Gypsy Robe ceremony. It's such a neat Broadway tradition. A robe is passed on from show to show, and whoever has done the most shows as an ensemble member gets to wear the robe, and whichever show you're in [adds] some sort of trinket or patch onto that robe. Then we all make a circle, and the person [wearing the robe] runs around the circle three times, and everyone has to touch the robe for good luck. That was one of the coolest things for me, because it was like an initiation, like I was part of Broadway now because I had taken part in this weird ceremony. It also reinforced the fact that all theatre people are weird, no matter where you go. There's always some weird tradition that has to be done.

AC: And did you feel like you belonged?

DB: Yes. I really did. At that point, all my doubts from rehearsals, of me saying, "I can't do this," were gone. 'Cause it was – literally every person you went to was excited that night. Every single person.

AC: The show had done very well in London, but a lot of shows that do well in London transfer to Broadway and it doesn't click. Could you sense in those early days that this was going to connect with the Broadway audiences?

DB: That was, honestly, one of the biggest worries of everyone in the cast. You know, it's a show that takes place in Britain. We have British accents that no one can understand. We're cursing left and right – I mean, I was saying the F word constantly onstage. How is an American audience going to react to that? In previews, the show started out very much like its London sister, and we learned with previews [that] we had to take some things out. We had to Americanize it in a way. But I think the thing that was always there that held it up was the fact that everyone can relate to this story. It's a story of finding yourself, finding a dream, and immersing yourself in it to find something that is worth living for. For Billy, that's dance. For someone else, it may be service work. For someone else, it may be math. I don't know. But whatever it is, they can relate to it. It's something everyone can get something out of and say, "Oh yeah, I felt like that once."

AC: Are there places where you feel like your life intersects with Billy's?

DB: Oh, definitely. Billy finds himself just as Michael does, and I think playing Michael helped me find my own sense of individuality, both while I was there and once I left. I've been able to confidently be me, because I can relate to Michael going out and wearing a dress, doing one of the most extreme things and being himself and not caring what anyone else thinks, pursuing it because that's what makes him feel himself. That's how he expresses himself. And everyone can relate to that, because at some point or other, everyone finds something that they absolutely love, that absolutely makes them feel like themselves, totally unique and special.

AC: How was it once you got into the run?

DB: It was always a different day, never the same. We'd have cast members who would get hurt or injured, and we'd have an understudy or a swing come in for them. We also had a lot of people leave toward the end of my run. A few months after we opened, the first people started leaving. That was so bizarre for everyone in the cast. It was like reality – these people are actually leaving, moving on, and eventually we're going to have to, too.

AC: I guess it feels a little like a family breaking up.

DB: Very much. So that always shook things up. Also, any job you have, even if it's something that you love, there are days when you go, 'I really don't want to go in to work today.' And anyone who tells you they don't have those days is lying through their teeth. There were days when I would have school in the the morning, then I'd have a Pilates class, because we'd have physical therapists work with us, then I'd go to rehearsal, then I'd go that night to do the show, or I'd stay on standby in case my understudy or my double got hurt, so I'd have to be at the theatre every night, and it was a little tiring now and then.

Also, certain days you feel on top of the world and you go, 'Great show," and then other days you come out of the show and think, "Wow, I did a pretty terrible job tonight." But that's the beauty of theatre: No two nights are ever the same. It's a blessing and a curse.

AC: Did you develop different relationships with the different Billys? Did it feel like a different show depending on who played opposite?

DB: Absolutely. That was another really fun thing, also a weird thing, getting to work with a different Billy pretty much every night. There were [weeks] when I'd have maybe two shows with one of the Billys and maybe one show with one of the other ones. It was very random. But it was almost easier, because your job as an actor is to keep things fresh and new, and having the different Billys every night, helped keep things fresh and new and relevant and current. It kept you in the moment, because you had to think, "Okay, I'm with this Billy tonight. How does he play Billy [differently] than the other one plays Billy? How does my character react to that different than I would to another Billy?"

AC: And did your Michael change from night to night, depending on who you were with?

DB: Definitely. Also, it depends on what mood you're in. As much as I'd love to say my mood doesn't affect my character or my performance, it definitely does. Sometimes you can't put those things aside. Big things didn't change, but how I'd perceive my best friend – you know, Billy is Michael's best friend, so having someone with a completely different personality totally changes your dynamic and interaction with them, how you'll approach them with asking a question, how you'll approach them in saying an insulting comment that's kind of funny. So that did help in changing my character every night.

AC: You mentioned injuries. You were with the show a very long time. Did you ever hurt yourself?

DB: I never did. I was very fortunate. The only time I ever did anything was I bruised my toe once. That was during rehearsal, though. I was doing my number and one of my tap shoes fell off. I was doing a certain move, a wing, and when I landed on my foot – you land with all your weight on that one foot – I actually landed on my toe kind of curled under. So I bruised it then, but that lasted maybe two weeks, and then I was fine. I was so fortunate. There were tons of people out because we had a raked stage. A raked stage is basically a stage on an angle, so that changes your whole body alignment and how you hold your posture, how your carriage is maintained.

AC: That's hard on actors who aren't dancing.

DB: Exactly. It was. Everyone – even the people who didn't dance as much – everyone was in physical therapy all the time. Which was a great resource to have. Our physical therapists were incredible. But yes, we did have injuries. Constantly.

AC: I don't know any actor who has not encountered some sort of onstage disaster of some kind: a prop that wasn't set, a costume that wasn't set, a missed entrance, or a late entrance and you have to vamp for a few seconds. Any of that stuff happen?

DB: Oh, all the time. All the time. All the time.

AC: Do you have a favorite incident?

DB: Absolutely. After I left the show in September of 2009 – my quote-unquote last show – they had asked me to come back and reprise my role during the summer. So I went back for two months in 2010. My character, Michael, enters on a bike. Before Billy Elliot, I had ridden a bike, but I hadn't touched a bike in at least two years, and I was like, "Oh no, I'm gonna have to ride a bike." So I practiced with a bike, I got it down, I was fine during my whole first run, and that summer when I went back, there was one night when I was doing my circle, my normal round on my bike on the stage, and I cut the corner too close and completely fell over, I mean, flat on my face. The bike landed on top of me. And the thing is, everyone else is onstage, so all the adults are singing and trying desperately not to laugh. But at the same time, they're looking like, "Oh my god, is he okay?" So the guy who played my father came over and picked me up and asked if I was okay real quick, and when I nodded, he just started laughing. Didn't hear the end of it that night. Never heard the end of it.

AC: What kind of relationships did you have with the other cast members?

DB: The kids, we were together so much. All the time. All the time. And the Billys, specifically, we were with them a lot, too, the Michaels. We did our aerobics/Pilates class with them, and all of our scenes were with Billy, so all of our rehearsals were with them. And that was great. We got to know them really well. Trent Kowalik, one of the Billys, he and I were really close, really great friends. Also a few of the Ballet Girls we were really close to, and during the show we'd go up and visit each other and hang out and play games whenever we got a free moment. We were always very, very connected. And the adults were wonderful. They were very patient and eager to work with us and gain knowledge from us as we gained knowledge from them. It was a very special cast.

AC: So you've been in the show for months. The glow of opening has passed, and you've settled into this rhythm of existence. And then the Tony nominations come out. Tell me about that day.

DB: My mom and I had gone down to Times Square that day to watch the nominations on the big screen. It was raining cats and dogs, and there was no one in Times Square – which is really odd for Times Square – and of course there are technical difficulties, so the screens aren't working. My mom was on the phone to my dad, and he had pulled the livestream up on his computer at work back in Texas, and we're still waiting for the technical difficulties to be resolved, and all of a sudden I hear my mom say, "He got nominated?" And she turns to me and grabs me and says, "David, you got nominated!" And I was just like, "… What?" Still today, it hasn't even hit me. It's still surreal. It's incredible. And it was totally, totally, unexpected.

AC: So what was it like getting to the theatre that day?

DB: They were ecstatic. I got congratulations after congratulations from so many people, and I was still speechless, thinking, "I can't believe this."

AC: Somebody's gonna call and say this was a mistake, right?

DB: Yes, exactly. I'm gonna wake up, and it's just not real. So having everyone there tell me congratulations was very sweet and further proves the support everyone had for one another.

AC: I know it's pretty standard for celebrities to come backstage after they see a show. Was there much of that?

DB: Yes. I loved that. We had countless people. Robert De Niro came. Hillary Clinton came. Debbie Reynolds, Tommy Tune, Miranda Cosgrove of iCarly – it was incredible to see these people and get to meet them and have them appreciate your work. You look up to them, like, "Oh my god, you're a living legend," and then they're saying, "You did a great job." That's so inspiring.

AC: Was it a pretty standard "Oh, I loved the show," shake your hand, and leave, or did you ever get to have a real conversation with anyone?

DB: It was never like a full conversation with anyone. It was very quick, so that they wouldn't have to stay too long. Debbie Reynolds, I have to say, she was very funny. She turned to me, and she gave me a big hug, and she said, "Oh my goodness, you remind me of me when I was younger. You are a little ham!" She said, "You were wonderful." And I was like, "Oh my goodness, Debbie Reynolds just told me that. I am about to die."

AC: So the month before the Tony ceremony one of the craziest months of your time in New York?

DB: It was. It was interview after interview. I got to go to a luncheon with all the other nominees, and that was incredible. James Gandolfini was there, Liza Minnelli, Sutton Foster – so many huge names that I'm just sitting there, like, "Why am I here? What have I done to get here? This isn't, this isn't … no!"

AC: What about attending the ceremony?

DB: My whole family got tickets to go, so my brother, my dad, my mom, and I all went. I only got two tickets to sit with me up front – I think it was the sixth row. I really wanted my brother and my dad to be with me, because they weren't with me as much as my mom was, so I wanted them to be able to have a really fond memory with me. My mom sat in the back with a lot of the Billy cast. That was a great night.

AC: Did you perform?

DB: The Billys performed, Sir Elton John performed, and the adults performed.

AC: How often had you gotten to see the show or see your friends perform?

DB: I had seen the show once or twice. I saw the first preview, 'cause my double was on that night. After that, there [were] a few times where I went out to watch a number or watch someone's last show. But that was it. Once you hear it every night, it becomes something that you don't really need to see because it's so ingrained in you.

AC: Did it feel different that night just because it was the Tonys?

DB: Definitely. That night, I was so taken aback by what everyone in the cast, the crew, the creative team, the producers, what we had accomplished. Regardless of whether we had won or not, I was just so happy that we had all made it there together. And with my family, with all the families supporting their kids, it was a great culmination to our work.

AC: So tell me about the decision to leave the show.

DB: I think my family and I always [knew] that I would eventually leave and move back to Austin. It was just kind of understood. Then we finally sat down and talked about it. And I had said that I really wanted to go back at the beginning of freshman year so that I wasn't missing out on too much. So once we decided that, we let the crew know and put in my notice. That was a weird time, because it was a countdown, basically. It was just kind of waitin' for September 27th. That was my last day. But there were 4 or 5 of us leaving that day, so it was an emotional day – very, very emotional.

AC: Did that performance feel any different?

DB: That performance was by far my favorite performance I've ever done. Because at that point, I was past caring if I got the steps right, I was past the perfectionist inside me. I was just focusing on having a great time and cherishing the last moments I had in the show. And that was so special – and I had never done that before, honestly. I had never been able to fully let myself go into that moment as much as I did that night, and that was so wonderful.

AC: Is it that something you've been able to incorporate into your performances since then, finding that way to let go and not be in your head so much and enjoy the moment?

DB: Definitely. Since that performance, my way of performing has changed. I've become a lot less tense.

AC: And did that make things different for you when you went back the next summer?

DB: It did. At that point, I was like, "Okay, I'm back. This is weird, unexpected, but I'm gonna just do my thing and have fun." Those whole two months were two months of last shows basically, because every night was like, I know I have a limited run, but I'm gonna enjoy it anyway. That was very different than when I'd done it the first time.

AC: I would imagine that's also made it easier to come back to Austin, where you're working on a very different scale and level of material.

DB: It puts things in perspective, you know. Instead of looking at the wrongs, the wrongs, the wrongs, it's about letting go now and then and absorbing the positives and appreciating what you have in the moment.

AC: And have you been able to take real joy in the shows you've done since you've been back in Austin?

DB: Yeah, it's totally translated to not only theatre that I've done here but music as well. I love writing music, and that's been a big factor in that, too.

AC: So where do you see this taking you in the long run? I realize that sometimes fate steps in and makes decisions for you, but as you're looking at graduating and college and beyond that, do you have your eye on things? Do you want to go back to Broadway sometime?

DB: At some point, yeah. I love writing my music, and I really want to pursue a career in that, so that's what I'm looking to go to college for. I would still love to do Broadway, of course, and theatre and possibly film. Music and dance will be my main focus, but I'm always going to be an artist who wants to challenge himself in every aspect of the arts.

AC: I imagine if you tried to give up theatre, you'd have Debbie Reynolds tracking you down and dragging you back onstage.

DB: [Laughs] That would be kind of funny.


A Dance Master Class on Musical Theatre Jazz led by Billy Elliot the Musical Dance Captains Michael Biren and Alison Solomon, with special guest David Bologna, will be held Saturday, Dec. 15, 10-11:30am, in McCullough Theatre, 2390 Robert Dedman Dr. For intermediate-level dancers and up. Space is limited. To RSVP, call 471-6376 or email jrhedin@texasperformingarts.org.

Billy Elliot the Musical runs Dec. 11-16, Tue.-Sun., 8pm; Sat., 2pm, at Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Dr. For more information, call 471-1444 or visit www.textasperformingarts.org.

Texas Performing Arts and the Austin Public Library host a free Brown Bag Lunch with cast members from Billy Elliot the Musical Thursday, Dec. 13, noon, at the Austin History Center, 810 Guadalupe. For more information, call 974-7400 or visit library.austintexas.gov.

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