October 1, 2015
North Shore Music Theatre is presenting the Tony Award winning “Billy Elliot: The Musical” through Oct. 11. With music by Elton John, lyrics by Lee Hall and based on the film of the same name, this is the story of a young boy with a fiery passion to dance. Despite his father’s stern objections, the motherless Billy fights the obstacles in his English coal-mining town to pursue his dream.
The North Shore production will feature two young actors alternating as Billy: Nicholas Dantes and Brooks Landegger.
Kevin P. Hill is the artistic director at the Beverly theater-in-the-round. Working with theater owner/producer Bill Hanney, Hill keeps an eye on virtually every aspect of every production to make sure it maintains the theater’s high standards.
That includes assembling a compelling season of productions, reaching out to directors, choreographers, and designers, holding auditions, casting each show, and making sure every production is technically sharp and runs smoothly.
A Waltham native with family ties that stretch to maternal ancestors in County Cork, Hill has had a diverse career as an actor, dancer, choreographer, and director. In addition to having appeared off-Broadway, he has directed and choreographed more than 80 productions across the country.
His impressive credits include touring productions of “Hello, Dolly!” “Anything Goes” and “A Chorus Line” as well as local and regional productions of “West Side Story,” “Falsettoland,” “Smokey Joe’s Café,” “Rent,” “Chicago” and more.
In New York, Hill was assistant to the director of "On the Twentieth Century" at the New Amsterdam Theatre. In addition to his theater work, he owns Hill Studios Dance and Fitness Center in Newton.
We spoke during rehearsals for “Billy Elliot.” Here’s a condensed look at our conversation:
Q. I know you’re very excited to be presenting “Billy Elliot” this month.
A. It’s funny that my story is a lot like Billy Elliot’s because I wanted to dance and my parents, I think, were worried about people making fun of me. They knew it was my passion, but they were just worried for me and wanted me to be in a more stable profession. An architect or something like that. Not that that’s more stable (laughs).
Q. What prompted you to include “Billy Elliot” in your season?
A. We always try to look for a family show . . . this show itself has so much heart. You just fall in love with this kid. And the dancing’s incredible. We choose Adam Pelty (to direct and choreograph). He’s the guru of “Billy Elliot” . . . We really wanted someone who knew the show but who also brought the heart to the show, and he has a lot of heart himself.
Q. Any local actors in this production?
A. All the ballet girls in the show are local. It’s wonderful. Our two Billys – one is from Chicago and one is from Oklahoma – are just amazing. We wanted the best for the show and we certainly have it.
Q. What was the first Broadway show you saw as a boy?
A. “Annie,” here in Boston; the touring company. I remember being seated in the very first row. I was there with my mother and my sister. I’ll never forget there was one point in the show where one of the cast members pointed right at me . . . I thought, that’s what I want to do.
Q. You spent some of your early years as part of Reagle Music Theater. What was that like?
A. That’s where I kind of grew up performing. I got my start there. Basically I wanted to learn every single aspect of theater . . . I started painting sets. Then I wanted to perform (so) I auditioned. My first show was “Oliver” and I just caught the bug. That’s all I could see myself doing.
Q. Eventually you made the transition from acting to choreographing and directing. How did that shift occur?
A. My first choreographic job was “Kiss Me Kate” at The Publick Theater in Boston. I got horrible reviews but it was only because I didn’t really know what I was doing . . . I had been a dance captain and I think at the last minute someone said, ”Oh, could you put something together?” . . . I did a good job, but I didn’t know the whole story-telling part of it yet.
Q. So how did you expand your vision?
A. I taught at Penn State University. I was a professor there for five years . . . I really gathered my skills there. I started choreographing a lot more there and I started directing there . . . They gave me more opportunities.
Q. What’s your approach when you take on a new show?
A. I tell every cast I work with that every show that I do I treat as my Broadway debut – my Broadway opening – and I expect no less from the cast.
Q. So how did you and Bill Hanney first meet?
A. He owns another theater in Rhode Island (Theater By The Sea in Matunuck) . . . In 2010 I was hired to direct and choreograph “Hello, Dolly!” I had done the show with Carol Channing and Leslie Uggams and Michelle Lee, so I had a big history with the show . . . And it’s funny, but no one ever introduced me to him at the theater. I kind of (asked myself), Why is this guy hanging around? (Laughing) I didn’t know who he was. But we got talking and from that point on we kind of became best friends . . . In 2013, he asked me to come on board and be artistic director (in Matunuck) and I jumped at the chance.
Q. And then came North Shore in Beverly?
A. (In 2013) he said, “Do you think you can handle two theaters?” Of course I wanted to . . . One of my many dreams and goals was to be the artistic director at North Shore. My mentor, I think, is (North Shore’s former artistic director) Jon Kimball. I performed for him back in 1994 in the musical “Good News.” I just loved Jon. I loved what he was about. And I said, “Someday I’m gonna take over.”
Q. So be careful what you wish for?
A. (Laughing) That’s right!
R. J. Donovan is editor and publisher of onstageboston.com.
“Billy Elliot: The Musical,” through October 11, North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly. Tickets: 978-232-7200 or nsmt.org