Biographies & Memoirs

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Chapter 23

Father Figure

“I probably shouldn’t ask you to sing now, because you’re not warmed up and you don’t have anybody here to play with you, but if you wanted to do a little something . . .”

Rosie O’Donnell looked at Trent and me while Misty, her long-haired Chihuahua, trembled in her lap. I could barely believe I was actually at her house, sitting on her couch, being interviewed for her radio show. And now she was asking me to sing with her.

Trent and I looked at each other and shrugged. This wasn’t part of the interview plan, but Juliana was giving us a big smile from the control room, so I guessed it was our choice.

“Sure,” Trent and I said simultaneously.

And next thing I knew, we were singing “Electricity” on air with Rosie!

At this point, I’d been out of the show for nearly three months. I’d been looked at by Dr. Hamilton and Dr. Mysnyk, taken MRIs and X-rays, gone to physical therapy weekly, and smeared poo paste on my leg nightly. And my knee was finally beginning to improve. Not much, and not fast, but it was a little stronger, and every day at PhysioArts I could bend it a little more.

Still, the show had no idea when—or if—I would return. The silence was driving us crazy. All Mom wanted was an answer. Would I go back? Would I be paid for the weeks I was out? Would I go on disability? Not only could the show not answer us, they couldn’t even tell us when they would be able to answer us.

Luckily, my body seemed in no hurry to grow. I was still the shortest of the Billys, and my voice hadn’t changed. So long as my knee continued to improve, I was optimistic I would return . . . eventually.

In the meantime, I kept doing press and charity events. In November, I kicked off the Kids Fun Run at the inaugural Damon Runyon 5K Race for Cancer Research with the New York Yankees. Working with a cancer charity made me feel good, even better, in some ways, than working with Covenant House. It felt like I was doing something on Dad’s behalf, and I knew he’d be proud.

In December, Liam and I appeared on Good Morning America to donate to their coat drive for the homeless. That night, Liam performed as Billy for the first time. It was bittersweet. I was excited for him, but I couldn’t help but wish I were up there. I’d been Billy exactly four times, which was more than I’d ever expected, and so much less than I had come to hope.

It would have been easy for the show to cut their losses, bring on new Billys, and see if I still fit the part after I healed. Instead, the public relations people put me forward as the face of the show. Friends would send photos of me on billboards and taxis they ran into around the country. It shocked me every time. It was the show’s way of keeping me involved and letting me know they were committed to bringing me back. It also made practical sense, as I had much more free time than all the other Billys.

Today, Trent and I were on Rosie Radio, Rosie O’Donnell’s SiriusXM radio show. It was the most laid-back press event I’d done yet. Rosie lived just an hour outside the city, and she actually ran her radio show out of her house. Or well, one of her houses. Rosie owned a small cluster of normal-looking homes on a pretty cul-de-sac, out of which she raised her family and ran her businesses. We entered one through the kitchen and walked upstairs to a converted radio studio. A dividing wall with a large soundproof window separated the control room from the studio itself, where Rosie, Trent, Misty, and I sat on the couch and chatted. Rosie was such a natural host that I felt completely comfortable and often forgot we were live. The half-hour interview went by like nothing. We were saying our on-air good-byes when Rosie made one final announcement.

“We have a Wii and all the games, and we’re delivering it tonight to the theater!” She smiled as Trent and I stared in shock.

“Thank you!” we rushed to say.

She was so nice, we didn’t have the heart to tell her we weren’t allowed to have a TV in our dressing room—too noisy. Since I already had a Wii, I let Trent have it, while I took the games. It was such a sweet, generous gesture on Rosie’s part, and it reinforced everything I had come to learn about celebrities in my time at Billy Elliot: they were all really nice. Maybe it was just the ones who participated in charity events, or went out of their way to talk to a kid who was (until recently) completely unknown, but nearly every famous person I met was incredibly kind to me.

At the end of January, Billy Elliot celebrated its five hundredth performance on Broadway with a sold-out house. In fact, even I had to stand at the back in order to get in. Seeing the show again reminded me just how much I loved it. When Billy sets off for ballet school in London at the end, I couldn’t help but tear up. Part of me wanted to warn him that going to the city wasn’t always the incredible journey you hoped it would be. But maybe that’s the beauty of the show: it promises nothing except for the possibility of a happy ending—much like life.

Afterward, the entire cast and crew headed over to Glass House Tavern, a restaurant not far from the theater. Company management had rented the entire upstairs for the after-party. It was an elegant space with big stone chimneys and dark heavy wood tables. Counting me, there were five Billys in attendance. Now that I wasn’t on the regular rehearsal schedule, I didn’t see much of them outside of tutoring. Liam and I would play video games occasionally, and I got lunch with Trent sometimes. But most of us Billys kept to ourselves. Sometimes it could get weird playing the same role. By some unspoken rule we never talked about who was performing at what show or press event or awards ceremony. It was the only way we could be friends, by letting management assign us when and where they wanted, and not competing among ourselves for shows.

“Alex!” Stephen yelled as I entered Glass House. “Come check it out.”

He waved me over to a table by the wall, where a giant sheet cake was decorated with an icing version of the Billy Elliot logo, complete with a leaping silhouette of Billy. Underneath, it said 500TH PERFORMANCE. I have a big sweet tooth, and it looked delicious. I hurried over to get a bite.

“Dayton! Michael! Trent! Liam!” Stephen called all the other Billys over. “Come on, come on. Tonight’s your night. All of you.”

Even though I hadn’t performed in months, Stephen treated me no differently from any of the other Billys. As we all gathered around the cake, flashes popped left and right. Being actors, we couldn’t help but pose. For a few minutes, we played at being celebrities and pretended our friends and family were eager paparazzi. Eventually, Stephen quieted the room.

“I just want to say a few words to congratulate these fine actors on the fantastic job they have done, five hundred times in a row!” Stephen said, smiling at all five of us. “But first . . .”

He motioned for us to gather closer. We jostled in, and I ended up standing directly to his right. Suddenly I felt his hand on the back of my head. Before I could say a word, he pushed my face into the cake!

Icing and yellow cake flew everywhere. I could feel the frosting squirt up my nose. The entire room burst into shocked laughter, and even though I couldn’t really breathe, I joined in.

I’ll give them something to laugh about, I thought as I stood up straight and smiled big, crumbs falling from my chin.

“Sorry, Alex, I couldn’t resist,” said Stephen as he came over with a napkin to wipe my face clean. I waited until he was only a few inches away.

“Me either,” I told him.

Stephen looked confused for a second, but before he figured it out, I pushed him into the remains of the cake. Now there definitely wasn’t any to eat, but I have to say it was worth it. A cake war lasted just long enough for Liam to end up splattered with icing as well, before waiters rushed over to deal with the mess.

Even though I tried to clean up at the restaurant, I found stray locks of hair cemented together with icing when I got ready for bed that night, and crumbs plastered to my shoulders the next morning.

“Dad,” I said, before falling asleep. “Thank you for sending me someone to look out for me. Everything’s still up in the air, but between you, Mom, and Stephen, I’m feeling hopeful again. Something’s going to change, I know it.”

Two weeks later, Kate called to tell me it was time to rejoin rehearsals.

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