NEW YORK — One morning in May, Noah Parets, who is 13, arrived at Chelsea Studios on West 26th Street for a day packed with classes. He would take ballet, choreography, tap, voice, acrobatics, and acting. The intense schedule had a single purpose: to prepare him for the title role in “Billy Elliot: The Musical,” alternating with three other boys on the national tour. Parets, who lives in Sharon, Mass., knows it’s a big deal. “I’m super-duper excited,” he said, heading to the ballet class.
He and his mother, Robyn, stayed at a nearby hotel for the five-week rehearsal period here. At the end of every day, he also fit in three hours of tutoring, to keep up with school. “Noah quickly took to the gypsy life,” his mother said. “He feels every minute is worth it.” They would travel to three other cities before the show arrives this week at the Boston Opera House, where it will run Tuesday through Aug. 19. Based on the 2000 movie written by Lee Hall and directed by Stephen Daldry, the musical is directed by Daldry and has music by Elton John, a book and lyrics by Hall, and choreography by Peter Darling. It earned 10 Tony Awards in 2009.
Sweet-faced, with light brown hair and a calm manner, Parets walked to the barre as the ballet class began. He bowed forward, sweeping his hand down to the floor, and returned to a standing position, his chin raised. “Feel your line,” instructed Jeff Edwards, the ballet and choreography teacher. “The people in the last row are probably the ones who most want to see the show. Project that far.” Parets straightened his back and curved his arms, a T-shirt emblazoned with “Billy” hanging loosely on his small frame. Next to him at the barre, Ben Cook, who was also preparing for the role, gave him an encouraging smile.
It was more than talent that won Parets the part. “Noah has access to his emotional life,” said Steven Minning, the supervising director. “It’s very rare in a young man of his age. He’s also very, very smart, and has a photographic memory. He needs all these things. He’s onstage 90 percent of the show. He carries it.”
Unlike the character Billy Elliot, a British working-class boy from a coal-mining town who defies convention to become a ballet dancer, Parets has always had total support from his family. “Noah was bebopping around the house from the time he was very little,” his mother said. “The movie ‘Happy Feet’ inspired him more than anything. He tried to imitate the penguins.” His older brother, Ethan, who is 16 and a junior at Sharon High School, acts and sings in local productions, so their mother already knew something about raising a child with an artistic bent. A yoga instructor who owns a studio, Breathe Joy Yoga, in Sharon, she signed Noah up for jazz and tap classes at Heidi Miller’s School of Dance in Walpole when he was 7. His teacher suggested he also take ballet. “At first, he was resistant,” his mother said, “and then he fell in love with it.”
When Parets was 9, he began taking dance at the Gold School in Brockton. There he joined a class with three other boys, who studied modern dance and jazz as well as ballet. He hadn’t taken ballet with other boys before, and it made him far more comfortable with dance. They became best friends. He also became a member of the school’s resident troupe, Project Moves Dance Company. Progressing quickly, he won the American Dance Awards’ Junior Male Dancer of the Year in 2011. Rennie Gold, the school’s director, described Parets fondly. “He’s a triple threat: He can act, sing, and dance,” he said. “He will have many choices in life.”
But, like a lot of young male dancers, Parets has experienced some bullying. When he was 12, and some middle-school football players teased him about his dance classes, he was ready with a retort. “You haven’t won a game all season,” he remembered telling them. “How can you make fun of dancing?” Smiling, he recalled, “They had no comeback. Some boys get scared out of dancing because they are made fun of. I love dance because it relates to everyone and everything. If you love it enough, you should do it. Dance can be your safe place.”
Last summer, Robyn Parets took her younger son to see “Billy Elliot” on Broadway. “Noah loved everything: the singing, the acting, the dancing,” she said. “He was mesmerized. All he could talk about was auditioning when he knew there was a touring company.” As soon as they got home, they checked out the time and place of the upcoming auditions on the show’s website.
“Even though my life has been very different from Billy’s,” Noah said, “I can identify with how he felt about possibly losing the chance to dance. It would be the complete downfall of my entire life if I couldn’t dance. I hope I can join a contemporary company when I finish school. I’ll keep up my ballet technique, but I want to do more than ballet — maybe musicals, too.”
His father, Mark, drove him to New York last September for his first “Billy Elliot” audition. The seven boys trying out were asked to do hip-hop and street dance as well as ballet and tap exercises, and eventually to sing the song “Electricity” from the show. “I gather myself and my thoughts before I go to do something big,” Parets said. “I came in confident and optimistic. I wasn’t really nervous. I relied on my dance background.” After the callback in January, he only had to wait a month to be informed that he had the role. He signed with the show for six months from his first performance. If he doesn’t grow too tall and his voice doesn’t change, he could get a contract for another six months.
At the close of the ballet class, Parets worked with Edwards on “Dream Ballet,” the sequence in the show in which Billy and his older self perform “Swan Lake” with the Royal Ballet. Parets took his place in the middle of the room next to a wooden chair, his face composed. “This has nothing to do with technique,” Edwards reminded him. “Let your imagination go. Think about what it would feel like to be in the Royal Ballet. Show the story.”
To the lush chords of “Swan Lake,” Parets picked up the chair and started to spin it on one leg, his other arm outstretched. First, he did the preliminary steps that begin all ballet classes, his back straight and his head high. He started to move, leaping with his legs stretched wide, then landed and spun in circles. He turned ballet steps into cartwheels and flying back flips, completely throwing himself into the movement. “It’s a big scene,” Edwards coached, watching him sail around the room. “Milk it.”
Huffing and puffing when he finished, Parets searched in his bag for a bottle of water and slid down on the floor. “This role is like running a marathon while playing Hamlet,” Edwards said sympathetically.
A few weeks ago, Parets made his debut in the role in Louisville, Ky. “Oh my God, it was so amazing,” he said later, on the phone. “I’m so happy. I was so nervous the night before. It was so incredible to be able to go out there and do it all. I was tired. It’s very demanding.” He paused and considered his future. “But now I get a break and can go home and see my family and my sweet dog, Phoebe. Then, I play Billy in Boston. That will be the best.”Valerie Gladstone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.