Note: JP’s final North American Tour performance as Billy was in Los Angeles on May 13, 2012.
Debuts: March 20, 2010 (Chicago) June 17, 2011 (North American Tour – Dallas, TX)
Total Performances as Billy: 174 [Chicago/Toronto = 108.5 (includes 1 partial show credited @ .5)] [North American Tour = 65.5 (includes 1 partial show credited @ .5) ]
The venues played by the North American Tour company of BETM were graced by the considerable dancing talents of John Peter Viernes (D.O.B. = 30-May-1996), who hails from Half Moon Bay, near San Francisco, CA. He’s universally known to friends and family as “JP”.
JP’s dance skills have been developed and honed by the Shely Pack Dancers, a school he has attended since the age of seven. The school is affiliated with the highly regarded Dance Masters of America program. School owner Shely Pack-Manning, in an interview with JP’s hometown newspaper, The Half Moon Bay Review, says that right from the start “I could see he had a wonderful sense of rhythm. In the past two years I’ve seen him develop into a strong dancer, a very flexible dancer. But one of his main assets is he can connect with his music.”
As has been the case with many of the boys who have portrayed Billy, dancing runs in his family. His older sister, Lexi, also attended the Shely Pack Dancers program and has won several competitions. At the end of JP’s time as Billy, Lexi joined the touring cast as a Ballet Girl.
At the age of nine, JP won the title of Master Dance of California, a state-wide competition for boys aged 9 and 10. In July of 2008, JP danced in the national Dance Masters of America competition in Orlando, FL, winning the title of Jr. Mr. Dance of America (for boys aged 10-12). His winning performance, choreographed by Pack-Manning, was danced to the Elvis Presley ballad “In the Ghetto”. Viernes characterizes the music for his performance as “…really sad, but it has a lot of emotional content.” He said he “described” the music through movement that included big jumps and snappy turns. “It felt like I was telling the story to the audience, but with my body instead of my words.” After holding his title for a year, during which he danced at Dance Masters events in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, JP surrendered it in July of 2009 in Washington D.C, at a very special Dance Masters annual convention at which the organization celebrated its 125 years of existence.
JP’s road to playing Billy was very long and not without a few bumps. In March of 2007, he first auditioned for Billy Elliot the Musical in San Francisco. In May of that year, he was asked to attend a second audition in Los Angeles. After that, over a year went by with no word and JP and his family naturally thought he hadn’t gotten the part. But then, in October of 2008, he received a call offering to bring him to New York for another audition, which was again followed by a period of silence from the BETM creative team. Still another callback occurred in April, 2009. By now, over two years had passed since JP initially auditioned to be Billy. But it then became clear to the family that JP was under serious consideration for the role when he was asked to attend the “Billy Camp”, during which boys under consideration for the role learn the various dance routines so it can be seen how they’d look in the show. Finally, in August of 2009, JP was offered the role of Billy in the Chicago production. Like the other Billys, his contract also called for him to understudy the roles of Tall Boy/Posh Boy. Beginning in November of 2009, JP, along with other Billys-to-be for the Chicago and New York productions, began an intensive five weeks of rehearsals in New York. After a short break for the holidays, it was then on to Chicago to there resume rehearsals for the show.
Before his debut in the previews of the show, JP and the other Billys were putting in 12 hour days, six days a week in rehearsal — an exhausting process, but one very necessary to getting the boys ready for doing the two hour and 50 minute show. With school work added in, it really didn’t leave much time for anything else.
JP debuted in his first preview in Chicago on March 20, 2010. At that time, the feedback from those in attendance was very positive. When asked how his first show went, he was elated. He said, “Good!!! It was really fun!” After the Chicago show’s official opening night on April 11th, JP performed officially as Billy for the first time at Thursday evening show on April 15, 2010.
JP portrayed Billy for the 71.5st and last time in Chicago on the production’s final day in the Windy City, November 28, 2010. After that he got some time off, spending the Christmas holidays at home in Half Moon Bay.
Right after the calendar turned to 2011, JP headed to Toronto with many of the Chicago cast to meet some new cast members from Canada and prepare to open there in February. His Canadian debut occurred on February 2, 2011, the show’s second preview there. Here’s a video that show’s the Toronto Billys preparing to open the show there:
Credit: Video by mirvishproductions
Shortly after marking his 100th performance as Billy in early May, it was learned that JP would be transferring to the Tour production of the show, enabling him to perform in front of his hometown audience when the Tour settled in for an extended period (June-Sept) in San Francisco. JP performed as Billy for the 37th and final time in Toronto on Sunday, June 5, 2011. And, thus, the last of the original Billys from the Chicago (and then Toronto) cast of the show moved on. At that point, he had logged a total (Chicago and Toronto combined) of 108.5 performances in the role. Later that week, he flew to Dallas to join his new cast mates with the North American Tour.
JP debuted with the Tour cast on Friday evening, June 17, 2011 in Dallas, Texas, becoming the 7th boy to portray Billy on the Tour.
It’s very obvious to those who know him that he’s thoroughly enjoying his experience of playing Billy in the popular musical. When asked, even before his debut in Chicago, how long he plans on playing Billy, JP said, “I’ll be in it as long as my voice doesn’t change, or I don’t grow.”
On May 13, 2012, over two year’s from his debut in the role, JP’s Billy journey finally came to an end where it began — in his home state of California. He had finally “grown up”. That evening, JP played Billy for the 174th time (includes two partial shows @ .5 each), in the final show of the Tour stop in Los Angeles. At his retirement, he was the senior Billy in the world, in terms of age, time in the role and the number of performances as Billy. To those who know him, he WAS Billy Elliot.
JP’s Final Curtain Call
Credit: Photo by Michael Zorek
Life After Billy
- After Billy Elliot, JP graduated from the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco in 2014.
- He then attended Columbia University in New York. During his years there, he performed in works by Lucinda Childs, Molisa Fenley, David Thomson, Colleen Thomas, and other New York based choreographers.
- In the Fall of 2017, JP wrote his senior thesis for his Batchelor’s Degree in Dance called Loose Taps: Finding Queer Orientations in Tap Dance Performance. In the thesis JP seeks to search for moments in tap dance performance where tap has been loosened from heteronormative conventions.
- For his Senior Creative Thesis Performance, on March 24th, 2018, JP called it Travel Day and it is set to three songs by the Scottish indie-pop band, Camera Obscura. JP describes it as equal parts ode to my favorite band, collage of genres, and reflection on travel and homecoming. Here is that performance:
Credit: Video by JP Viernes
- JP always loved science as well as dance, and he is proud to have graduated in 2018 from Columbia with dual Bachelor’s Degrees in Dance and Physics.
- JP considers himself to be an avid reader and writer. In the summer of 2018, he published an op-ed on Asian-American representation in ballet in Dance Magazine.
- At the beginning of 2019, JP created a blog called Rambles With JP, in which he expounds on whatever topic fascinates him at the moment.
- In March of 2019, JP created new dance pieces for the Current Showcase.
- JP was one of ten choreographers presenting work in the Uptown Rising showcase July 27th of 2019, in partial collaboration with his sister, Lexi.
- In September, 2019 he danced with General Mischief Dance Theatre at New York City College.
- From November 21-December 8, 2019, JP’s next major dance project will be with “The Chase Brock Experience” in the revival of The Four Seasons on Theatre Row.
For more information about JP Viernes visit:
JP Viernes on Facebook, Rambles With JP, JP on Twitter, JP on Instagram
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