Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, which last year was one of just a handful of schools in the U.S. allowed to stage Disney’s “Mary Poppins,” will stand alone this year as the first American high school licensed to produce Elton John’s “Billy Elliot.”
The all-boys Catholic school will present the show — about a boy in a rough English mining town who’d rather dance than fight — May 1, 2, 8, 9 and 10 in the school’s Major Bowes Theater.
“It’s such a beautiful story,” said director Frank Portanova. “Not to get sappy, but it’s about the power of love and family and just the humanity of the piece is brilliant. It’ll be a great show for families to experience together.”
Stepinac’s award-winning theater program is led by Portanova and producer Keith Sunderland, who said they learned the school had secured the rights for its production on Thursday, even though the production materials from New York-based Music Theater International aren’t yet ready.
MTI wants Stepinac to take the musical for a spin before offering it to more schools. It’s the same arrangement the school had with Disney Theatricals for last year’s award-winning “Mary Poppins.”
John Prignano, MTI’s senior operations officer, confirmed Stepinac had secured the rights.
“I’m just curious to see how they do the whole show,” Prignano said. “They did a great job with ‘Mary Poppins’ and they’re just a car ride away, in White Plains.”
The show’s message, to follow dreams and passions no matter how it may look to those around you, will resonate with the Stepinac boys, said Portanova, the school’s academics vice principal. Charlotte Newman will choreograph and Chloe Sasson will be music director.
While the all-boys Stepinac recruits actresses, and sometimes younger boys, to fill its casts, Portanova said he’s confident he’ll find the show’s Billy among the 740 boys at the school.
“It’ll be a Stepinac boy,” he said. “He’s supposed to be between 11 and 13 and, believe it or not, we have freshmen and sophomores who are the size of middle-schoolers. I feel because he is the central figure of the show, he really has to be a boy from Stepinac.”
Big shows come with big budgets, but Sunderland said Stepinac’s budget process is unorthodox: “Some people say ‘What’s our budget and what can we do?’ We say ‘This is what we want to do. How are we going to make it happen?’”
The entire budget comes from fund-raising, Sunderland said, from selling tickets, ads in the program, candy bars and Avon products.
Ads in the “Mary Poppins” program raised $16,000, Portanova said, adding: “I tell the kids: ‘If you want the production values, the great costumes and the flying, we’ve all got to work together to make it happen.’ And they pull through.”
The reaction to yesterday’s announcement was relief, from at least one Stepinac student, Portanova said.
“One of the boys said to me, ‘We had “Evita,” then “Mary Poppins.” It’s about time we have a boy in the title.”
Top photo: David Alvarez stars as Billy Elliot and Haydn Gwynne is Mrs. Wilkinson in the Broadway production of “Billy Elliot.”
Archbishop Stepinac presents “Billy Elliot” at 7:30 p.m., May 1, 2, 8, 9 and at 2 p.m., May 10. Tickets are $22; $18 for seniors and those younger than 12; 914-946-4800, ext. 200.
Read about the entire high-school-musical season — including a show-by-show calendar and an overview of what to expect — in Sunday’s editions of The Journal News.