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Teenage lead in 'Billy Elliot' identifies with message of acceptance

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Liam Redford stars in 'Billy Elliot: The Musical'

In a Seacoast production of “Billy Elliot: The Musical,” 13-year-old Liam Redford is a boy who faces family doubts, gender stereotypes and community strife in an English mining town as he pursues his passion as a dancer.

PORTSMOUTH — Thirteen-year-old Liam Redford has been preparing most of his life for his starring role in “Billy Elliot: The Musical,” the Seacoast Repertory Theatre’s new production about a boy who faces family doubts, gender stereotypes and community strife in an English mining town as he pursues his passion as a dancer.

Redford, a New Jersey resident who started dancing when he was 7 and has played as Billy in two previous productions, finds the fictional character’s path mirrors his own in some ways, he said, and the production sends a valuable message of acceptance and community bonds.

“It was definitely a struggle to train. I was the only male in the room. But that made me stronger as a dancer, to prove of myself, that boys can dance too,” Redford said.

“Billy Elliot” runs through March 9 at the Seacoast Rep. The show, with music by Elton John and story by Lee Hall, is based on the movie by the same name, which was also written by Hall.

“Billy Elliot” is set in the mid-1980s, when 11-year old Billy’s hometown is riven by a doomed coal miner’s strike that was a defining battle against then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s conservative agenda. At the same time, Billy’s family is shattered by his mother’s death and stresses that the strike is placing on his miner father. Amid the turmoil, Billy happens upon a dance class in the building where he takes boxing lessons an accepted path of masculine expression in his town – and then develops a passion for dancing. The story depicts, with anger and exuberance, Billy’s journey to winning his father’s acceptance and his community’s support to enroll at the Royal Ballet School in London.

“It shows you what we will do for those we love,” said Rachel Bertone, director and choreographer of the Seacoast Rep’s production. Bertone is a theater and dance professor at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee and is on the dance faculty at Emerson College. She also helped recruit most of the cast for “Billy Elliot.”

The story addresses themes including homophobia and “toxic masculinity” that Bertone said remain relevant today, and well as the power of community to provide mutual support.

“Liam really understands this role of Billy. He’s incredibly passionate about dance and about the arts,” Bertone said. “That spirit, that fire that’s in Liam, is what’s in Billy, too.”

Redford began his performance training on a cheer squad when he was about 5 or 6, said his mother, Kim. He started dancing two years later, and made it his main pursuit when he was 9.

“As soon as there is an audience, he comes to life,” Kim Redford said of her son.

His dance training has included work the Joffrey Ballet School in New York, and he’s honing his acting and singing skills.

“My favorite part of the role is being able to share the story with the other young male dancers in the audience,” Redford said. “Even though it’s something that people might not accept, if you want to do it, go for it.”

Show are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 433-4472 or visit seacoastrep.org.

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