Craig Bennett never gave up his dream to be an actor even after being kicked out of the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.
“They asked me to be in the program... at the end of the year, they kicked me out. They thought it was their job to weed out those they didn’t think would make it as a career. At the time I was devastated, but I decided I was going to go somewhere where they wanted me. I think I just made up my mind, and it never entered my mind to doubt that.”
The 1978 Sandusky High School graduate received a bachelor of arts degree in theater from Otterbein University and will be performing Tuesday through Oct. 7 as Big Davey, one of the union miners, in Billy Elliot The Musical at the Stranahan Theater as part of the Broadway in Toledo series presented by the Theater League.
This is a touching story of a young motherless boy growing up in a mining town who chooses ballet dancing over boxing during the great mining strike in the mid-1980s. It won 10 2009 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Original Score [Elton John], Best Book of a Musical [Lee Hall], and Best Choreography.
Billy knows his choice to dance won’t be popular with his family or the community. “He has to kind of hide it,” Bennett said. “When he is discovered a lot of conflict ensues. He perseveres and everything turns out OK for him; unfortunately not for the mining town.”
Bennett has had his share of ups and downs in his professional life, too, but that never stopped him. “There have been lean times; there always are,” he said.
“When I was younger I did a lot of different jobs to make ends meet. Mostly I waited tables... but there was this one ridiculous gig in Chicago when I worked for the Illinois State Lottery, and I would make personal appearances as Number 7 Ball. I wore a big white ball with the number, green legs sticking out, and a green baseball cap.”
He’s thankful those days are long gone and knows there will be challenges ahead. “I’m getting to the point I’m between age groups in my career. I’m really fortunate to have made a living in this business for as long as I’ve been able to and do what I love. Many people don’t have the opportunity to do that.”
He has performed on Broadway in South Pacific, A Tale of Two Cities, and Miss Saigon. He’s toured nationally in The Light in the Piazza, Mamma Mia!, Ragtime, and Les Miserables.
Bennett started with the Elliot national tour two years ago when it opened in Durham, N.C. He left the tour after a year after losing both his parents in a year. “You feel like you don’t have time to grieve and then being away from my wife and my son — it didn’t feel right.”
He returned to northwest New Jersey to be with his wife Sala and son Mako and to heal, rejoining the Elliot cast and making his first appearance as Big Davey Sept. 12 in Detroit. The tour is booked through June.
“It’s really so enjoyable and so funny and so moving, and you will just be thrilled by what the kids do up there. Don’t be scared off by something you think is not up your alley. It really is an enjoyable evening of theater.”
“Billy Elliot The Musical" takes the stage at 8 p.m. Tues.-Sat. at the Stranahan, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Additional performances are at 2 p.m. Saturday and at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7. Tickets are $28-$73 plus convenience and/or handling fees. Information: 419-381-8851 or theaterleague.com.