Ethan Fuller got his big break on Interstate 4. "They called us when we were driving home from Tampa to Indialantic on I-4," says Camille Fuller, mother of Ethan, 12.
The phone call they got in the car a few weeks ago was that Ethan had been cast to play the leading role in Billy Elliot on tour. "It's the opportunity of a lifetime," his mom says.
Ethan is now in New York, where he is undergoing the intensive training needed to play Billy, probably the biggest part for a child actor in musical theater since Annie. The actor is onstage for virtually the entire three-hour show.
"It's definitely hard, because you have to do everything," Ethan says. "You have to do ballet, tap, acro (acrobatics), sing, act, and you have to look like you're not tired at all. And I have to pick up a British accent."
The role of Billy is so demanding that four young actors rotate in performances on the national tour, now playing at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. The musical, with a score by Elton John, is about a boy in an English coal mining community who has to overcome his working-class family's objections to follow his dream of being a ballet dancer.
Dance runs in the Fuller family. Ethan's older brother, Collin, 17, is a student at the School of American Ballet in New York.
Both young Fullers received ballet training in Florida from Peter Stark, dance chair of the Patel Conservatory, part of the Straz Center. Stark encouraged Ethan to audition for the Broadway job. He doesn't think it will hurt him if he ultimately decides to be a ballet dancer.
"Ethan is a hybrid dancer," Stark says. "He has been studying ballet, but also contemporary dance, so he's sort of a ballet-jazz kid. Ethan loves ballet, and he is really good at it, and I think he can transition into a Broadway show and then back into ballet if he wants. If you have the right attitude, you can take your year or two or three in this project and enjoy it, and then get back to what you want to do."
Ethan, who is 5 feet 4 and weighs 90 pounds, will probably join the Billy Elliot tour in a couple of months. Performances continue through Sunday at the Straz Center.
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American Stage has had to cancel its production of the hotly anticipated new cop drama A Steady Rain by Keith Huff in July. "The company that holds the rights to A Steady Rain hadn't signed off on allowing us to perform the play as of the start of the new year, as we had been led to believe they would," said Todd Olson, the producing artistic director. Publisher Samuel French owns performance rights to the show.
To fill the spot on the schedule, American Stage will be doing the 1963 Neil Simon comedy Barefoot in the Park July 22-Aug. 14.
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Leif Bjaland announced this week that he will be stepping down after the 2011-12 season as artistic director and conductor of the Sarasota Orchestra. Next season will be Bjaland's 15th with the orchestra and the final year of his three-year contract.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.