Sandusky actor part of ‘Billy Elliot’ castWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
Related Story: Local ballet director is real-life ‘Billy Elliot’
When “Billy Elliot” comes to Toledo on Oct. 2-7, it will be a homecoming for one area man.
Actor Craig Bennett, who portrays Big Davey in the musical, was born and raised in Sandusky and will stay there with family while the tour is in Toledo.
“I do try to get back as much as possible,” Bennett told Toledo Free Press Star during an interview from a tour stop in Buffalo, N.Y. “It’s where I grew up. I still enjoy going back as much as I can.”Bennett recently rejoined the “Billy Elliot” cast after spending some time “being a dad” in New Jersey with his actress wife and their 9-year-old son.
When visiting Sandusky, Bennett said he enjoys eating at several favorite local restaurants and taking his son to Cedar Point.
“Billy Elliot” is the story of an 11-year-old boy in a small English mining town. His father enrolls him in boxing, but Billy is drawn to ballet instead. He starts sneaking into ballet sessions when he is supposed to be at boxing.
Eventually his father finds out and forbids him to continue. Big Davey is one of the miners in the village.
Bennett said audience members will be impressed by the young dancers.
“You’re going to see an amazing group of kids,” Bennett said. “You’re gonna be blown away by the talent of these 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds. They are already triple-threats.”
The 52-year-old Bennett grew up singing in choir and acting in musicals at Sandusky High School, but never considered majoring in music or theater in college.
“As a boy growing up in Sandusky, it just wasn’t a very practical path, becoming an actor,” Bennett said.
At the University of Cincinnati, he changed his major several times before deciding on political science, thinking he might follow his brother into law school.
Then he tried out for a musical during his third year. The musical theater majors saw he had talent and encouraged him to change majors.
“I thought, ‘Here’s a chance to see if this is the path.’ I jumped at it and took it,” Bennett said. “But a year later, they asked me to leave the program. CCM (UC’s College-Conservatory of Music) is a pretty tough program and they just felt like I didn’t have much of a future. They looked at me and said, ‘Well, we don’t really see it. You should probably go do something else.’”
Instead, Bennett looked for another theater program and transferred to Otterbein University.
Bennett went on to perform on Broadway in “South Pacific,” “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Miss Saigon.” He’s also been part of national tours of “The Light in the Piazza,” “Mamma Mia!” “Ragtime” and “Les Misérables.”
Bennett said his experience being turned down by UC’s performing arts program is nowhere near the level of setback Billy experiences, but he can relate to the frustration of being told he can’t do something he loves.
“Billy had a much bigger hill to climb than I did,” Bennett said. “I just said, ‘Oh I’ll go somewhere else,’ where Billy is fighting against his father and brother, people who think ballet is something a young man shouldn’t be doing. So on a much smaller scale, yes, I do identify, but I certainly wouldn’t put myself into the category of what Billy goes through.”
Bennett said even people who don’t like dancing will enjoy the show, which won a Tony Award for Best Musical in 2009.
“I just want to stress to people not to judge it on its cover. Don’t be scared off or discouraged thinking it’s a dance show or a kids’ show,” Bennett said. “It’s actually a universal story of struggling against all odds and coming out on top. It’s about how if you really love something, you can achieve it against a lot of odds if you just keep at it and don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it. It’s a story that resonates with everybody.”
Although it has a serious theme, the show is also humorous, Bennett said.
“The show is a lot funnier than people anticipate it to be,” Bennett said. “There is a lot of humor in it and I think that helps tell the story.”
Bennett said performing for an audience makes him happy.
“Just the fact that eight times a week, you get to tell a story to people and, at least for three hours, get to take them away from whatever might be troubling them in their lives,” Bennett said. “It makes me happy and it makes them a little happier, even if just for a brief time, and their troubles fade away for a little bit.”
Performances are 8 p.m. Oct. 2-6 and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd.
For more information, call the box office at (419) 381-8851 or visit www.billyelliottour.com.