Spreckels taps area 5th-grader for Billy Elliot

Spreckels taps area 5th-grader for Billy Elliot
Charlie Garton, a 10-year-old Solana Beach resident, won the starring role in San Diego Musical Theatre’s production of “Billy Elliot the Musical,” which is onstage at Spreckels Theatre from Sept. 22 through Oct. 8. Courtesy photos

SOLANA BEACH — When 10-year-old Solana Beach resident Charlie Garton read the script for “Billy Elliot the Musical” he was hesitant to audition for the Tony Award-winning show.

“I didn’t want to do it when I realized there were so many bad words,” he said.

Charlie Garton

So when someone else got the lead, Charlie wasn’t too disappointed. But when that other young actor stepped away after being cast in another show, he decided he could tolerate the profanity and auditioned again.

Plus, his mother told him, some of the words sound different when you say them with the Geordie accent common to the area where the story takes place.

“So I told Charlie, ‘You’re not really swearing,’” Francine Garton said.

Set in a working-class neighborhood in England’s County Durham during the 1984 coal miners’ strike, “Billy Elliot” is about a motherless British boy and his efforts to gain admission to London’s Royal Ballet after turning from boxing to ballet.

In many ways the story is art imitating life for the Garton family. Charlie’s parents are from working-class neighborhoods in Liverpool and Manchester. Francine Garton is a dancer who studied at a London ballet school on a scholarship.

In fact, after her last show before moving to the United States in 2001, her mother told the audience her daughter was the female Billy Elliot.

Francine Garton said Charlie has been dancing almost since birth.

“He used to do dance moves when I was brushing his teeth,” she said.

“I started doing hip-hop when I was 3,” Charlie said. “Then I did hip-hop tap at 4 or 5.”

Wearing hip-hop clothing and hats, he entertained his family performing dance routines he created himself.

Just three years ago, at age 7, Charlie began formal training in all styles of dance and started entering competitions. His favorite dance style is tap but he says he’s best at lyrical, which he describes as “like ballet but more flowy.”

As for ballet, “It’s not my favorite,” he said. “I don’t like the bar because I don’t get to move.”

Charlie has been onstage performing in recitals at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. Last year he danced as a dwarf in “A Snow

White Christmas” at the Lyceum Theater. But because he wore a headpiece, a voiceover was used for his lines.

“This is my first, like, actual thing,” he said of his role in “Billy Elliot the Musical.”

Charlie took singing and acting lessons for a few weeks before the audition but has since given up the latter. He said the most challenging part of the role is trying to remember everything, from his lines to the blocking for each scene.

One thing he hasn’t had to learn is speaking like an Englishman. Although born in San Diego, Charlie maintains a British accent.

However, a dialect coach has been helping the entire cast with the Geordie accent.

Unlike most of the touring shows, which use multiple actors for the Billy Elliot character, Charlie is the sole performer for the lead role in the San Diego Musical Theatre production.

On Feb. 13, he and about a half dozen other boys were called back from the first audition to dance, sing and read from the script.

“I thought, ‘If I don’t get it, I don’t get it. And if I do get it, yay,’” Charlie said. “Then one by one they started excusing everyone and I was the last. I was really happy.

“Right now I don’t feel very nervous at all but I probably will be,” he added.

“Billy Elliot the Musical” is onstage at Spreckels Theatre from Sept. 22 through Oct. 8. Visit http://www.sdmt.org/shows/billy-elliot/ for more information or to buy tickets.

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