Note: Benjamin Dienstfrey’s final show as Billy in Billy Elliot the Musical (BETM), presented by Vintage Theatre in Aurora, Colorado, was on March 12, 2017.
Debut: March 3, 2017 (Aurora, CO)
Total Performances to Date: 3 (No partial shows)
Benjamin “Benji” Dienstfrey was 13 years old (D.O.B. = 29-Oct-2003) when he debuted as Billy Elliot. Benji, whose hometown is Louisville, Colorado, is a middle school student at the Summit Middle School in Boulder.
Benji was cast in the Vintage Theatre production of BETM as Billy’s best friend Michael, and as the Billy understudy. In his latter role, Benji has been scheduled to play Billy several times during the production’s run.
Before he got the “acting/dancing bug”, Benji was a competitive jump roper on the Mad Hops team in Louisville, CO. He flourished in that sport, winning several medals in the Junior Olympics, including gold and silver medals in individual events, and was named the overall Silver Medalist (shown in the photo on the right).
But then he began taking ballet and tap dance instruction and fell in love. It left little time for other things so, after three years of competitive jump roping, he left the team to concentrate on his dance.
Nonetheless, this intensive training in the art of jump roping will stand Benji in good stead as the Vintage Theatre production utilizes a skipping jump rope as part of the choreography in Born to Boogie.
Benji’s extensive dance training has included:
- Ballet at Boulder Ballet (Ana Claire, instructor)
- Tap at The Art Underground (Kim Perez, instructor)
- Tap at Bring It To Broadway (Justin Greer, instructor)
- Boyz Dance at Boulder Ballet (Lance Hardin, instructor)
- Broadway Intensive Dance Workshop (Judine Sommerville, instructor)
- Physical Theatre at The Art Underground (Peter Davison, instructor)
Other performance training has included Benji’s attendance at the Actors Academy of Performing Arts (AAPA) in Boulder for the past three years. This program is held on weekends during the school year. He was recently awarded the Triple Threat Award there. Training at this program has included Voice (with instructors Terri Schafer and Katie Foulke) and The Theatre Lab, which presents acting workshops and ensemble work.
He has also attended the Terri Schafer/Showtime Productions New York Broadway Actor’s Intensive and has studied with Broadway professionals Ray Jaramillo McLeod (voice), Mike Ruckles (vocal health) and Judine Sommerville (dance).
The first item on Benji’s extensive performance resume was his casting as a Lollipop Guild Boy in the Boulder Dinner Theater production of The Wizard of Oz when he was in the 3rd Grade. From there, Benji honed his skills and acted in many youth productions, including:
- Beauty and the Beast (Gaston)
- The Wizard of Oz (Cowardly Lion)
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Tom Sawyer)
- Seussical (Horton)
- Mulan (Mushu)
- Legally Blonde (Professor Callahan)
In the summer of 2016, Benji played the role of Winthrop in the Jester’s Theatre production of The Music Man.
Billy Elliot The Musical
Benji first learned that Vintage Theatre was going to perform Billy Elliot The Musical via an audition posting on the Colorado Theatre Guild‘s website. The auditions for Billy Elliot were open and included one callback. Both his orginal audition and the callback were in person at Vintage Theatre. The family was contacted within a few days of auditioning to discuss details of the Michael/Billy understudy arrangement. Learning both roles would be a huge undertaking, but after discussing it with Benji and his teachers, they decided to accept.
The preparation demands were very high for Benji, involving rehearsals from 6:30–9:30 almost every night from mid-December through the show opening on February 3rd. And frequent rehearsals continue throughout the run, both to maintain proficiency as the Billy understudy, and to prepare for his debut in the role itself.
In this video clip, Benji’s tap skills are demonstrated as he rehearses as Billy in Angry Dance.
Credit: Video by Andrew Dienstfrey
Benji says he’s found all the hard work to be “incredibly rewarding”. And the critics have made it even more so for him. An example of the glowing reviews Benji has received for his portrayal of Michael…
Dave Perry of the Aurora Sentinel wrote: “The sheer energy and unfettered chutzpah of Benji Dienstfrey’s cross-dressing “Expressing Yourself,” virtually did bring down the house on opening night. The entire show is a romping joy, but Dienstfrey’s spot-on song and dance in drag wins the dog.”
And now, with his debut as the 190th actor to portray Billy Elliot on stage in a professional, regional or community theatre production of BETM, Benji will again have the opportunity to awe audiences and critics alike.
Note: Some photos and videos in this profile are compliments of and used with the permission of the Dienstfrey family.
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