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They Shared a Tony for ‘Billy Elliot’. What Did They Do for an Encore?


In 2009, three unknown adolescent boys were the toast of Broadway in the musical’s title role. Where have they been? And where are they going?
It was — good gosh, can this possibly be right? — 11 years ago that I met the Billys Elliot, all of us gathered in the fluorescent delirium of Dave & Buster’s in Times Square. They ate pizza and drank milkshakes, because that is how old they were, three kids unknown to Broadway at that point, the last boys standing from a nationwide culling of young dancers. They were on the verge of being huge.
Trent Kowalik, 13, Kiril Kulish, 14, and David Alvarez, 13, would shoulder “Billy Elliot: The Musical,” an $18.5 million Broadway production about an aspiring ballet dancer growing up in English coal country in the Thatcher era. Ten years ago this June, they walked up together onto the Radio City Musical Hall stage to receive the Tony Award for best performance by a leading actor in a musical, the first trio ever to do so.
Broadway runs come to an end, as does prepubescence. By the time “Billy Elliot” closed on Broadway in 2012, the original trio had long scattered. To where? It’s an odd exercise, asking what happened to people who are still at an age when most people haven’t happened at all yet. But no one comes out of the teenage years unchanged, not even Billy Elliot.
On a recent gorgeous Friday night in Manhattan, Mr. Kowalik and Mr. Alvarez strolled into the restaurant Bond 45 — Mr. Kowalik fresh from teaching a studio of young tap dancers, Mr. Alvarez from rehearsing for his role as Bernardo in the coming Steven Spielberg production of “West Side Story.”
Once again on the verge of showbiz hugeness, Mr. Alvarez seemed serene about it all, in an intentionally Buddhist sense. Back in the day, when the trio would rotate in the title role, each bringing his own personal quality, Mr. Alvarez was the Angry Billy, who would come off the stage tear-stained with emotional intensity. Now he is all easy smiles and Eastern philosophy.
“Whatever happens,” he said, “is going to happen.”
“Are you saying the future is predetermined?” Mr. Kowalik asked. (They both studied philosophy in college.)
Mr. Kowalik, by his own account, was the Vulnerable Billy, rule-bound and reserved. Now 24 and, as the afternoon in the dance studio confirmed, as agile on his feet as ever, he is one of the more engagingly and acutely introspective people you could meet.
“I think about this a lot,” he said. “Have I actually changed? I don’t know if I’ve actually changed. Maybe just the way I present myself has changed.”
I asked these same sort of things a few days later in West Hollywood over dinner with Mr. Kulish, who had come to the restaurant from teaching a ballroom dancing master class.
“It’s hard to describe your own self,” he said.
Undoubtedly true. But over dinner each Billy gave it a shot, telling his own story of lucky breaks, setbacks, ambitions, injury and the dance of growing up.
“When I was little I wanted to do everything right,” Mr. Kowalik said.
He was at dancing school before he turned 4 and had won an Irish dancing world championship before he turned 12. Though the youngest of the three, he was a veteran Billy before the musical even opened in New York, having played the role in London, and he stayed on Broadway the longest.
Back to dance school afterward, then high school, then Princeton University, where he majored in philosophy and earned a certificate in dance. His senior dance thesis project was inspired by his “work on backward time travel and decision theory.”
It was all work at the very highest levels. But who was he doing it for? The question nagged.

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