This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website and the Delaware County Daily Times‘ website.
MEDIA — As The Media Theatre likes to jokingly say, it had to hold a national audition to find two people to cast as its lead role from the theater’s own backyard.
“Billy Elliot,” the story of a young boy in 1980s England who wants to become a dancer, is currently playing at the theater and the lead role of Billy is split between two 13-year-olds, one from Media and the other from West Chester.
Gunar Daniels, who hails from West Chester, isn’t new to acting.
He has been doing it since he was 6 years old.
“My parents would look for things for me to do,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
In the musical, the character of Billy starts off going to boxing classes because of his father’s influence, but ends up inadvertently staying for a ballet class and finds that he enjoys it much more. Behind his father’s back, he continues to attend class and becomes the best in the group.
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The actor playing the role not only has to be able to sing and dance, but also perform these sometimes very challenging dance choreographies.
For Daniels, his past experience as a gymnast helped him.
“I hadn’t done acting for a while because I was doing competitive gymnastics,” he said.
To make up for lost time as a gymnast, Daniels attended The Media Theatre’s teen acting class before auditioning in Manhattan for the casting call of “Billy Elliot.”
“The first day I was there, we had a roundabout to introduce yourself and I said I did ballet and tap and (I) was asked if I thought I could do the role of Billy Elliot,” Daniels said.
Daniels had to wait about month before he found out that he was given the lead role of Billy.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I found it surprising, but I wasn’t like, ‘What? I got the role?’”
It would be his first big role as a lead character, having only been in ensemble parts in his young acting career.
“It’s a big step up from what I had done before,” Daniels said. “Once we got the script in August, I just read through almost every scene every day. I knew I had a lot ahead of me, so I tried to practice it a ton before rehearsal started.”
Due to the high demands of the juvenile roles, many of the characters are double-cast and the actors typically alternate performances.
Sharing the role with Daniels is Brandon Rinalli, of Media.
“It’s really fun,” Rinalli said. “During rehearsals, we are practicing a lot together.”
Unlike Daniels, Rinalli is fairly new at acting, having started when he was 11 years old. He instead started his young life off as a dancer because of his mother.
“My mom owns a dance studio and I’ve been going there since I was 3,” he said. “I was born into the business.”
Once he started with acting, though, Rinalli couldn’t get enough of it. In fact, this is the third time the young actor is playing the role of Billy Elliot.
“I auditioned three years ago for the national tour, but I was too young and it was also closing, so they weren’t hiring anyone,” he said. “The casting director kept an eye on me and asked me to do Billy Elliot in Kansas and New York and I played that this summer.”
So it was almost fitting for Rinalli to have the role again, though this time around, it’s even more special.
“It’s exciting because I live in Media and I already know a lot of people that are in it, like Gunar,” he said.
The show has come to mean a lot to both actors, who have that common bond of being both local and have a history of some sort of dance.
“I’ve grown to like the show more and more as I’ve practiced it and gone through it,” Daniels said. “I was nervous, but I wouldn’t say I was as nervous as (when) I did the first preview. I’m proud of myself, I would say.”
In fact, in a way, the boys feel a connection to the character of Billy Elliot.
“Not that many musicals are about ballet and this situation – this is the only one where this young boy is dancing and it’s his passion,” Rinalli said. “I can relate to it, though I’m not in the same situation. My parents are very supportive.”
“Billy Elliot: The Musical” will continue to run at The Media Theatre until Jan. 3.