Woodbury boy cast as lead in touring 'Billy Elliot' musicalArea News
-- Lake Middle School eighth grader Zach Manske has been dancing for the past five years at Woodbury Dance Center.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Pierce County Herald
Lake Middle School eighth grader Zach Manske has been dancing for the past five years at Woodbury Dance Center.
Manske has won his fair share of awards, including the Minnesota State Fair Talent Competition.
But Manske followed his feet all the way to Broadway, where he has been cast as Billy Elliot in the touring play of the same name.
Manske, who is one of five actors playing the role, is slated to make is debut in the musical this month in Washington, D.C.
“It’s been an amazing process so far,” he said. “But, I’m getting excited about being on stage.
“It’s very exciting and cool to let the whole theater see you doing what you love.”
“Billy Elliot” is not scheduled to make a stop in Minnesota.
Back in October of this year Manske was in New York City over break with his family.
While there, his family took in a Broadway musical, which happened to be “Billy Elliot.”
Set in a small English town, the story follows Billy as he stumbles out of the boxing ring and into a ballet class, discovering a surprising talent for dance that inspires his family and his whole community, and changes his life forever.
The musical, which is based on the film, is set during the 1984-to-1985 United Kingdom miners' strike.
Manske said he instantly fell in love with the show.
It just so happened that “Billy Elliot” was in the process of starting a national tour and was looking for its Billy.
That next week auditions were being held and Manske said he decided to give it a try.
“Since I saw the show, I thought it would be cool to audition,” he said. “It was my first big audition.”
For the audition, Manske was up against 13 other boys, so it was unclear what his chances were.
“I was nervous and excited,” he said. “It was exciting just to be out there.”
When Manske found out that he was cast as one of the Billy Elliots, he said he was completely shocked.
“My mouth dropped and my mom started crying,” he said.
Manske said touring with “Billy Elliot” has been both challenging and enjoyable at the same time.
Even though Manske hasn’t appeared on stage, as of press time, he said he spends roughly six to 10 hours every day rehearsing while on the road.
“It’s been a lot of rigorous training,” he said.
Even though Manske has experience with ballet, he said he has had to practice and learn along the way.
“While Billy’s learning to do ballet,” Manske said, “I’m becoming a better ballet dancer through the process.”
Manske said the acting side of the show has been a challenge for him since he has no previous experience with acting.
“It was an adjustment,” he said. “The directors have helped me so much with my acting.”
Even though acting is a completely new skill to him, Manske said it has been fairly easy to capture the essence of Billy Elliot since he can relate to the character.
“The story was kind of just like mine,” he said. “Even though my parents were very supportive of my dancing, I did baseball before dancing so not a lot of people thought it was normal.”
Manske said he really enjoys being able to share the role of Billy Elliot with four other dancers because it allows each of them to bring something different to the character.
“It’s very cool how each of the boys’ characters is different in a way,” he said. “We each bring a different character to the show.”
Life on the road
Since Manske has been touring with “Billy Elliot for the past month, he has had to be away from friends and family.
“The cast is just like a family, but it’s still hard to be away from family and friends,” he said.
Additionally, Manske has had to give up a traditional school experience in favor of a tutor.
During the week, a tutor travels with the cast and tutors all five Billy Elliots for roughly two hours a day.
“We have our own little system,” he said. “They help us with whatever we need.”
It is unknown how long Manske will continue touring with “Billy Elliot,” but he said he is going to enjoy it while he can.
“I’m just trying to live in the moment right now,” he said.
For more information on “Billy Elliot,” and for the tour schedule, visit www.billyelliottour.com.
Amber Kispert-Smith is a reporter for the Woodbury Bulletin.