For Genai Veal, Billy Elliot is a role model. The 11 year old black actress-dancer from Patterson, New Jersey recently told the Banner that "'Billy Elliot: The Musical" has expressed dance a lot more for kids." Now a sixth grader playing one of the English ballet girls alongside whom Elliot trains in the musical, Genai had what she called Billy' s "feeling of dance" when she was very young. In fact, Veal began her study at the age of two. Now she speaks so eloquently about her own training and the show-at the Opera House through Sunday (that she could be a role model herself.
Veal spoke passionately about her the wide range of her study. "I've studied tap, jazz, musical theater, contemporary , hip-hop, lyrical and modern dance," she detailed. That diversity has served her well in "Billy Elliot." "We (the ballet girls) do a mix of ballet and jazz and tap,"she noted. Veal was so proficient at tap that she entered a New Jersey dance competition at the age of nine. "I was chasing a jacket (part of first place like the Masters jacket in golf) and I was doing a tap solo. Veal won, receiving both the jacket and a trophy plaque. In another competition ,she danced a jazz solo and gained the title of Little Miss Showbiz. Later she went on to nationals in Orlando , where she danced another tap solo and came in third.."I've also won a lot of special awards, " she added: fastest feet, highest kicks and overhead kicks, among others.
The musical celebrates solidarity and understanding between children and adults. As in the film, Billy discovers that dancing is his inner passion and opts for dance lessons instead of sports training. Initially, only his grandmother and ballet school teacher Mrs. Wilkinson support and encourage that passion, while his clueless miner Dad and brother Tony discourage him at every turn. Set during the era of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the show directly confronts the poverty and despair of largely marginalized miners. With snappy music by Elton John and strikingly vivid book and lyrics by Lee Hall, "Billy Elliot" brings its unassuming but determined young hero's dream to touching realization. At the same time, Dad's love for Billy grows to embrace his son's passion for dance.
Just as with Billy Elliot, Veal received encouragement from a grandmother. 'My Grandma Letha Veal took me to my first dance class," she noted. Also, her mother was fully supportive. "My Mom Genea was a dancer and a singer too and played piano,' Veal said.”I play piano," she adds.
Asked about the frequent positioning of the children at center stage with the adults around them, Veal offered," I think the reason they put all the kids in the middle of the adults is because they [the kids] know more about dance. It's an encouragement to the adults."
Child and adult theatergoers alike will embrace the show with all its riches, especially Peter Darling's soaring choreography and the strong touring cast -kudos to director Stephen Daldry and assistant director Julian Webber. Kylend Hetherington is impassioned and properly vulnerable as Billy. His turns and jumps are exciting, and his reading of his late Mother's "Dear Billy Letter" will rightly break your heart. Rich Hebert is convincingly tenacious as Dad. Janet Dickinson is strikingly undaunted as demanding teacher Mrs. Wilikinson. The ensemble ballet girls and the ensemble miners are equally sharp throughout the show.
"Billy Eliot: The Musical," Boston Opera House August 19. 617-931-2787 or broadwayboston.com.