Note: Alex’s Final Performance as Billy on Broadway was May 15, 2011
Debut: October 6, 2009 (Broadway)
Total Performances as Billy: 117.5 (includes 3 partial shows credited @.5 ea)
Born on February 3, 1996, Nicholas Alexander Ko (who goes by Alex because his Dad liked the sound of that name better), has been dancing since he was a five-year-old in kindergarten. Alex was the senior Billy on Broadway when he did his last show there. But how did he get to that point?
The Iowa City, Iowa boy began his local dance training at the National Academy of Dance and Nolte Academy and gymnastics at the Iowa Gym-Nest (with coach Brad Virkler). Impressed with Alex’s early skills in gymnastics, Virkler says of Alex: “It was always pretty clear that he was destined for something big.”
Alex later registered for the Dance Forum, the University of Iowa’s community outreach program and subsequently enrolled in the University’s Advanced Ballet Class, which is a class normally full of college-aged students. He is the youngest ever to be accepted to that program. Alex has also studied with George de la Pena at both UI and the Joffrey Ballet School in NYC. He was a soloist in the UI Youth Ballet’s “Swan Lake” and “Nutcracker” productions, and was featured in a youth ensemble of the UI Dance Gala. At UI, he also took advanced gymnastics instruction from Russian 1996 Olympic Gold medalist Dmitri Trouch.
In 2007, Alex began taking private ballet lessons from UI Assistant Professor of Ballet & Choreography, Eloy Barragan, whom Alex considers a mentor. Barragan soon realized that his new student possessed star potential. “Iowa City has a lot of talent, young talent”, he said. “But Alex has something very unique, he has maturity and dedication and is committed to what he wants…. Alex has something really special. There’s a soul to his dance and that is what people notice.”
The close relationship that developed between the two led Alex to ask Barragan to create a solo in memory of his father, Sam, who had recently died of cancer. The result can be seen in this brief video:
Credit: Video by BigDanceFan
In 2008, instructor and protege traveled to New York City where Alex participated in a 10-day dance instruction program at the prestigious Steps on Broadway. As fate would have it, one of Alex’s teachers there, Peter O’Brien, brought Alex to the attention of the Steps on Broadway director. The director offered Alex a full scholarship to study at the school’s six-week summer intensive in July and August. With that scholarship to Steps on Broadway came vocal lessons and training with one of the choreographers from Billy Elliot The Musical. He was subsequently invited to audition for the musical, which he did in July of 2008 . A subsequent “final” audition came in November, just as the show was officially opening on Broadway.
Things happened rather quickly after that. He found out he got the part of Billy in March, 2009 and moved to NYC with his family in May, where he immediately began acting classes with Ann Ratray and vocal training with Joan Lader, both renowned coaches to many of the Broadway shows.
He entered actual rehearsals for the show in July, 2009.
Here’s an interview in which Alex talks about the role and what was required to prepare for it:
Credit: Video by ckalex1996
The culmination of all that training was his debut in the show on October 6, 2009, as the replacement for departed original Broadway Billy, Kiril Kulish. The creative team behind the musical is committed to diversity in the cast and Alex became the third boy with an Asian heritage to play the role of Billy (the others being Matthew Koon and Hogan Fulton who were in the London production). Another Billy, J.P. Viernes who played Billy in the Chicago, Toronto and North American Tour productions of the show, is also of Asian heritage.
Picture above: Cast Board in Imperial Theatre Lobby on Alex Ko’s Opening Night
After just three performances as Billy, for which Alex received rave reviews, he sustained a serious knee injury which would keep him out of the Billy rotation for five months and would later cause him to wear knee braces for every performance of the show he did thereafter. The rehabilitation of his knee took longer than even he expected, a setback that would be devastating to any young person, but especially to one who has just attained a dream he’s pursued since he began to dance. But during his rehabilitation, Alex showed the same determination and committment that he’s applied every step of the way as he’s prepared to be Billy and he’s maintained a positive and upbeat attitude while doing so.
His rehabilitation complete, Alex returned to the Imperial Theatre stage on Sunday, March 14, 2010 for the matinee performance. It was exactly five months from the day of his injury. Since the last time he had performed the role last October, there had been several cast changes — including a new dad (Phil Whitchurch) and a new best friend (Jake Evan Schwencke), so Alex had some familiarization to do.
While recovering from his injury, in November of 2009, Alex helped the rest of the cast and crew celebrate the Broadway show’s first anniversary with an after show party. Pictured here at the party are Alex and Keean Johnson who played Billy’s best friend Michael, on Broadway and then went on to originate that role in the Chicago production of the show.
Photo Credit: Bruce Glikas
Alex did an interview for the July/August 2010 International Gymnast magazine. Among other things he related what a typical week is like for a Billy. In addition to typically performing two times per week, each Billy is also on standby at the theater twice a week. He said: “I continue to train in gymnastics, voice, ballet, tap, acting, dialect six days a week – with a day off on Mondays.”
In September, 2010 Alex travelled to Canada where he performed with other dancers from Broadway, the movies and the entertainment world, along with Olypmic ice dancers in a show which later aired on NBC-TV called Shall We Dance on Ice. Here’s some video footage of that appearance:
Credit: Video by Alex Ko
On April 8, 2011, the Broadway company performed its 1000th show at the Imperial Theatre and the Senior Billy, Alex Ko, performed as Billy in that evening’s milestone. Here’s Alex and Company at the curtain call that night:
Credit: Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia
A little over a month later, on Sunday evening, May 15, 2011, Alex performed as Billy for the 117.5th and final time at the Imperial Theatre — a place he’d called “home” for just over 19 months. With his auditioning and training prior to his debut, Alex’s journey as Billy had taken up almost three years or 1/5 of his young life. There is no doubt that his success on Broadway will just be the first stepping stone to a long career in the entertainment field for this talented young man. Happy Trails, Alex.
Editor’s note: Several years later, Alex described his journey to Be Billy in a book called Alex Ko: From Iowa to Broadway.
For More Information on Alex Ko visit: