No one was more surprised this month when the producers of “Billy Elliot” abruptly announced that the acclaimed Broadway musical will close on Jan. 8 after just three years on Broadway than one ponytailed eight-year-old girl, who had auditioned just two weeks earlier for a role.
Kendal Tate, whose mother Celeste brought her to the Broadhurst Theater to try out for a ballet girl role, never got her chance to get a callback. “Kendal was quite disappointed about the closing of the show,” her mother said. Kendal’s older sister Kendra, 13, has been a ballet girl for over a year. “But she was more upset when she found out the week before the news of the closing that her sister will be leaving the show as of November 6th since Kendra was told she’s gotten too tall for the role.”
At Kendal Tate’s audition, aspiring ballet girls in tutus and tap shoes enthusiastically danced away to the repetition of a generic tune on the piano in an empty auditorium. Stage smiles were permanently etched on the girls’ faces as they hoped to show Casting Director Nora Brennan they had what it takes to be one of the ballet girls in “Billy Elliot.”
It’s a tough enough gig auditioning and landing a role, but keeping it in a Broadway musical, is another story. There are pressures that are simply part of the deal that come with being a ballet girl in “Billy Elliot.” Brennan said, “Most of the girls here today are 9-12 years old. They must be strong ballet and strong tap dancers.” There are specific height requirements too.
The producers of “Billy Elliot” declined to comment on when they decided to close the show or why they made the decision. But the show, which won ten Tony Awards in 2009, is facing stiff competition this theater season from over a dozen other Broadway musicals, including this year’s Tony Award winners “Anything Goes” and “The Book of Mormon.” Ticket buyers also will have a flurry of new shows to choose from in the next few months when a revival of “Funny Girl” opens in March and when popular “Lysistrata Jones” opens on Dec. 14.
But there are no hard feelings among the ballet girls. Celeste Tate said of daughter Kendra, “She knows this is the nature of the business, so in turn she is grateful for her experience, as she will always remember and credit ‘Billy Elliot’ for giving her the opportunity to make her Broadway debut.” Kendal is still inspired by what her big sister was able to be a part of in “Billy Elliot,” and her dream of being cast in a Broadway show is far from over, her mother said.
Current ballet girl Brianna Fragomeni, 14, said how grateful she was for the experience, saying she had already found her dream job; to be a Broadway actress. “I love the group of people, it’s like a family when we’re on stage and off,” Fragomeni said while watching the recent auditions. She will now experience what many people in their working life deal with at a much more mature age; finding a new job if she is to continue working toward her dream role, playing Elle Woods in Broadway revival of “Legally Blonde.”
Another girl who auditioned, Natalie Santiago, 11, arrived early enough to secure a place close to the front of the line that spanned half of the block. While doing the splits to warm up, she was blissfully unaware that her dream of being a famous Broadway dancer would soon be put on hold. “When I’m older, I want to be a famous dancer on Broadway and own my own company,” she said, “or be a judge on ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’”