BEMIDJI – When you check the website for the national tour of “Billy Elliot, the Musical” for the Ordway Theater in St. Paul this coming week, you will see a picture of Janet Dickinson who says that she is proud of her hometown, Bemidji.
And Bemidji is proud of Janet, the girl it knew as their classmate from the Bemidji school system who would sing and dance her way through many productions.
Dickinson has a leading role in “Billy Elliot,” the kind and caring dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson who recognizes and supports the young male dancer from the slums of the coal mining district of England. This Tony Award-winning musical is based on the movie which moved composer Sir Elton John so deeply that he asked if he could compose the music for a musical. He worked with lyricist Lee Hall who wrote the book (story) and lyrics to the songs.
The show opens Tuesday at the Ordway for a run of eight performances, ending at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 when Dickinson will welcome her family to a quick reunion before going back on the bus for the next theater.
“She was in school plays since grade school,” said her mother Donna Dickinson during a recent phone interview. “She would take ballet with Diane Halverson here in Bemidji and then we would drive Janie and two girlfriends to Grand Forks two nights a week for interpretive and more tap with Judy Ray. We knew she was talented and determined to succeed.”
Dickinson laughed, during her phone interview, when asked about her mother’s claim to have given her every opportunity and agreed that her parents were supportive. However, the two people who stand out in her mind, along with Halverson, are Gregory Lee, the drama coach at Bemidji High School, and music director Patty Pickett. Dickinson has fond memories of those high school years and musicals like “Fiddler on the Roof,” “West Side Story” and Pippin.
The 1979 BHS alum went on to attain a music degree from Minnesota State University Moorhead, where, in her freshman year, she helped start the Red River Dance Co. with Kathy and Eddie Gasper. Dickinson stayed with the company for the six years, and earned a master’s in theater from North Dakota State University.
Then the bright lights of Broadway beckoned and Dickinson has never looked back.
“No, we did not discourage her,” said her mother Donna. “We knew she had six years of schooling and a lot of experience. I have never heard her be discouraged even during those times of cattle calls (open auditions where thousands show up).”
The time was 1986 and Dickinson spoke about how she made connections quickly and her first real job was at the summer stock theater, Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown, Penn.
Dickinson said the move has been fulfilling for her as an actress, dancer and singer. Unlike many other aspiring actors and dancers on Broadway, she has not had to support herself by waitressing or other low paying jobs. She took a computer course early on and then worked in an office setting until she could quit and devote herself to her career full time.
“I have been very fortunate to have always supported myself as an actress,” said Dickinson. “I am a member of Actors Equity (a labor union for actors and stage manages). I have played off-off Broadway, off-Broadway, Broadway and many regional theaters and touring companies.
One of her favorite characters is Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” but she also likes to play a variety of roles in different genre: dramas, musicals and comedies.
“But this is a great show and a beautiful musical,” said Dickinson. “It’s fun and very challenging.”
“We will be there for opening night,” said mother Donna. “Her father (Dick) and I will drive down to the cities and stay overnight. At the Sunday matinee, her brother Mark and his family, her sister Karen and her daughter from South Dakota and about 12 other relatives from Walker will be there to cheer her on.”
Tickets for the “Billy Elliot, the musical” performances from Tuesday through Oct. 14 can be purchased by calling the ticket office at (651) 224-4222 or by accessing the website at ordway.org.
Shows start at 7:30 p.m., and there will be 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Oct. 14.