AUSTIN (KXAN) - Just imagine: You're 14 years old on the stage of the ImperialTheatre on Broadway, performing before an audience of more than1,400 stunned patrons.
You have a little curtain call moment and the crowd roars inastonished glee. Not only do these people adore you, critics singsongs to you in their sleep. Your work in Billy Elliot on Broadwayearned you a nomination for a Tony Award.
Let’s stop there for just a moment and let that sink in.At the age of only 14, David Bologna, of Austin, Texas, is a TonyAward nominee.
Now let’s step back almost four years. You live, as youhave your entire life, in New Orleans, Louisiana. It’s anidyllic life, complete with bicycle, friends, adoring parents, acool big brother. As a child, you got turned on to Irish folkdancing and went on to earn international acclaim incompetition.
Then comes August 2005, and a massive storm bears down on thecity you love, on the home that has always sheltered you. Yourfamily flees to safety. When Hurricane Katrina passes, you finallyget to return to the ruins of your house.
There is no water, no plumbing, no electricity. Your parentskeep a clipboard at the front door, taking inventory of every oncetreasured item they now pile high in the street, waiting for theFederal Emergency Management Agency to someday haul it all away.The mountain of debris joins similar piles in front of everyneighbor’s house. The heat, the stench, the despair poisonthe air. At the age of only 10, David Bologna, of New Orleans,Louisiana, is undone.
"I had a lot of memories in there and it was just hard seeingit," said David.
His voice is steady, but slow, belying the deep hurt inside. Hisfather, Rick Bologna, allows his feelings to ride closer to thesurface.
"I’m emotional," Rick said. "I’m Italian." (Checkout Rick's complete "emotional" response below:)
Rick looks back at the day the his wife, Holly, and hischildren, Ben and David, stood bewildered and angered in front oftheir destroyed abode. He takes a big gulp and uses his right handto trace a path in the air. It is the same path little David took,walking to what remained of the family garage, pulling his bikeonto the street, climbing up on the seat and putting shoe topedal.
"He rode it up and down the street," said Bologna, a long pausepunctuating the spoken thought as he struggled for composure. "Itwas the first time I saw normalcy in a neighborhood that's full oftrash."
Eventually, the family settled in Austin and Rick Bologna wentto work for the Bishop at the Catholic Diocese here. Someonementioned a local children’s theatre company calledKidsActing. Holly Bologna suggested David check it out.
Still frustrated and angry, the boy wouldn’t even considerthe idea. He kept dancing though, and in time, he mellowed on thestage notion. He joined the KidsActing troop and found a leadingrole in an original work called Bugs, about a kid who finds himselfin a world populated by insects. He had a solo in the musical, asong that included the lyrics, "All on my own, scared and alone.Don’t want to talk; don’t want a friend, just want tobe a normal boy again. Why is the world so changed, so big andfrightening and strange?"
The song ends with a soaring and plaintive cry, "I just want togo home." Talk about art imitating life.
By now, though, David Bologna had learned some things.
"It doesn’t matter where you are," he said, "as long asyour family is with you." Austin was now home.
In that new home, at a KidsActing rehearsal, the youngster gotwind of an audition in Dallas for the forthcoming musical in NewYork City, Billy Elliot on Broadway. Eighty kids, including David,auditioned for the part of Billy, the English coal miner’sson who dreamed of being a ballet dancer in a rough, dirty village,drowning in the politics and violence of a massive strike. Eightywas whittled to 12, then six, then three. Speaking of three, Davidwas a triple threat: He could dance, act and sing. He had no skillwhatsoever, though, when it came to ballet. He didn’t get thepart.
Months later, however, the phone rang. Would David be interestedin the role of Michael,Billy’s best friend? More auditions followed, this time inNew York City. "Don’t call us; we’ll call you," was theresult.
The family went home to Austin and went back to life. David wasa teenager now and was begging, without success, for a cell phone.Finally, his parents agreed he could have the phone if he got therole in the musical. The weeks passed and talk of a cell phone wentdead.
That is until April 15, 2008. The phone rang and David’sparents heard the good news. When their son came home from school,Rick suggested the family update their cell phone situation, with asideways glance at his youngest son.
"Oh, man, great! I'm getting a cell phone," David grinned.
"And then it kind of hit him," Rick said, "and he was like, 'AmI going to need a cell phone?'"
"And I was like, well, needless to say, and then the tearsstarted to flow. And it was like, 'Buddy, you...'"
The father pauses while the Italian in him oozes out again.
"I'm getting choked up now," he confesses, before continuing, "Isaid, 'You’re going to need a cell phone; you're going toBroadway.'"
Mother and son moved to New York. Father and elder brother flyto the Big Apple for weekend visits every couple of months or so.But when the Tony nominations were to be announced last May, RickBologna was at work at the Diocese office in Austin.
Rick was at his desk, getting ready to watch the announcementson his computer, via a live feed. His wife and his son werestanding in Times Square, where the news was to come down on a hugescreen overhead. Rain had been deluging New York for three days,however, and some kind of technical glitch left the screendark.
So Holly got on the phone with Rick and when the nominees werenamed for “Best Performance by a Featured Actor in aMusical,” David’s name was called. Rick jumped to hisfeet and screamed, as an Italian might, the news to his wife, whoin turn, passed it on to David.
“I know," the boy replied, " BillyElliot is nominated for Best Musical."
"No, no, David," she repeated, cradling his young face in hermaternal hands, "you’re nominated, you are nominated!"
Joy joined the rain, bathing a mother and her child, embracingalone in the midst of a crowd in the middle of Times Square.
Billy Elliot is here to stay for a while. It garnered 15 Tonynominations, a feat equaled only by The Producers in 2001, andDavid Bologna will outgrow the part long before the show closes. Sohe’s making plans for life after Billy.
He’s been learning through a tutoring program during therun of the show, earning his graduation diploma from the 8th grade.A few weeks ago, he and his family did a tour of available Catholichigh schools in Austin and settled on the new St. Dominic SavioCatholic High, due to open this fall in the Northwest part oftown.
The family will reunite in New York for the Tony Awardceremonies, June 7. They know David is going up against veteranactors and while winning the Tony would be unimaginably fantastic,they view the nomination itself as victory enough.
After the ceremony, they will split up again as David returns tothe Imperial Theatre stage and his role as Michael, where he ishaving a most robust adventure. And while New Orleans, Louisiana,holds his heart; while New York, New York, holds his attention; hiseyes are increasingly trained on Austin, Texas.
As he learned after Katrina’s chaos, "It doesn’tmatter where you are, as long as your family is with you."
A once vulnerable little boy, now old beyond his years, stillhears a song in his head, “I just want to go home.”
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