Local dancer performs in Denver’s ‘Billy Elliot, the Musical’
Landon Harris is only 13 years old, but he’s already in the national touring company for “Billy Elliot, the Musical.” He just completed his 200th show (since he was cast last August), and he will continue to perform through June 5 as the company appears at the Buell Theatre in Denver.The show won 10 Tony Awards, including best musical in 2009. It depicts a boy’s (Billy) journey to make his dreams come true during the 1984 British National Union of Mineworkers’ strike; Billy decides to go from boxing to ballet when he discovers a passion in the dance that inspires his family.Harris started ballet classes at age 2, and Summit County local Keely Brown trained him in voice to prepare for initial auditions for “Billy Elliot.” In addition, Ben Way, head gymnastics coach at the Silverthorne Recreation Center, helped teach him acrobatics.Harris moved from Copper Mountain to Centennial in fall 2009, because the school he attended from second through fifth grade, Summit County Christian School, closed. While he lived in Copper, his mother drove him to Denver five to six times a week for dance classes at the Academy of Colorado Ballet. When they found out the Christian School was closing, Harris and his twin brother, Ash, auditioned for the Denver School of the Arts. Both made it and spent their sixth-grade year there. But now, Landon studies through the Colorado Virtual Academy and has three tutors, who travel on the “Billy Elliot” tour. He attends tutoring every day from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. but steps out for dance classes or rehearsals as needed. Meanwhile, his family still owns a home at Copper Mountain -and Landon’s looking forwarded to skiing after being away from the sport for two years.
His involvement with “Billy Elliot” started with a “Mary Poppins” audition in Denver when another mother at Colorado Ballet encouraged Ash and Landon to audition. Their only other experience auditioning for a professional production came in 2009 with the Colorado Ballet’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Landon played Mini-Puck, a small but fun role, he said, and Ash took a bigger part as the Changeling. There, the boys learned how to act in rehearsals, on stage and in the dressing room.The boys wanted to gain experience auditioning for a Broadway production, and to their surprise, they both made it through the first round of “Mary Poppins.” Then, the Disney casting director called to arrange an audition for Ash in New York, saying Landon was too tall for the role (by about a quarter inch). But during the conversation, they talked about Landon’s dance training, and “Billy Elliot” came up. The director sent Landon’s resume and headshot to the children’s casting director for “Billy Elliot,” and four days later, she asked Landon to go to New York to audition, while Ash tried out for “Mary Poppins.””The audition process for ‘Billy Elliot’ is uniquely long,” said Heidi Bosk, spokesperson for the Buell Theatre.After a private audition, they called Landon back to New York in July 2009, where he made the final four. In December, he went to a follow audition in Texas, made the final four and went to the Denver audition in January, 2010, then went to Leeds, England, for the London production in March 2010.”I was the last boy standing out of approximately 75 who attended the audition,” Landon said. He worked with directors for a week in London, then went through a four-day workshop in New York in April 2010, followed by another audition and a nine-day assessment and specialized ballet, tap and acrobatics classes.Still, he wasn’t done. He submitted a series of videos performing the “Angry Dance” from “Billy Elliot,” improving each one as he received critiques. Then, he had to read for the roles of Tall Boy and Michael. On Aug. 25, 2010, all the hard work paid off when he garnered the roles of Tall Boy and Posh Boy. He debuted Oct. 30, 2010, and since then has performed in Cleveland, Minneapolis, Charlotte, Tampa, Houston, Seattle, Portland and Tempe.
Tall Boy is the son of a miner who crosses the picket line to work. He appears in the opening scene and later in the boxing scene with Billy and Michael doing pushups – a stint that’s caused Landon to do more than 4,000 pushups on stage and additional thousands during rehearsals. In the second act, Tall Boy collects donations to support the miners, then goes to the picket gates, where he gets spit on. Later in the second act, he appears as Posh Boy, who is attending the audition at the Royal Ballet School in London at the same time Billy auditions. He attempts to console Billy, but Billy ends up hitting him.”I get hit a lot in this production,” Landon said.Still, all the strikes and push-ups are worth it. “The most exciting aspect of rehearsals was working with some of the most talented directors in the industry,” he said. (One name most everyone will recognize is Elton John.)Landon’s greatest challenge has come in learning the dialects; he’s the only child in the show required to learn two different ones.In addition to learning lines and dialects, he takes ballet class three times a week with Kurt Froman, who helped prepare Natalie Portman for “Black Swan” (as well as performed in the movie himself). He also takes tap twice a week and cardio once a week to maintain his stamina and health.”I like performing in front of a live audience,” Landon said. “I enjoy hearing their responses. It’s interesting to hear the audience gasp when Billy hits me in the London audition scene.”
Once he finishes “Billy Elliot,” he plans to immediately return to his dance studio and continue training in singing and acting. He’ll also be performing the role of Prince in the Dance Conservatory of Denver’s “Cinderella” June 18 at the Paramount Theater in Denver. He’s considering pursuing work in musical theater again, or looking into television and film.”On the other hand, I may decide to pursue ballet, which will mean years of focused training and dedication,” he said. “I have some decisions ahead of me.”Meanwhile, Ash is traveling with his twin.”He has been a great help to my mom when it came to packing and packing and packing again,” Landon said.After the tour, Ash plans to continue taking tap and singing lessons, but he’s taken up golf and loves it. He’s also interested in history, economics and politics. “I think he is contemplating law school – that is if we don’t see him on Broadway first,” Landon said.Until then, both boys are enjoying life on the road.”The other actors and actresses in the production are wonderful people, and the level of talent is mind boggling,” he said. “I am very lucky.”
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