BWW Interview: Benjamin Cook of TUCK EVERLASTING Talks Dance and Broadway
Success in the arts is certainly not easy, often taking years before finally booking your big break. The waiting can be exhausting and discouraging, perhaps making us question why we even got into this business in the first place. Some, however, experience success very early in their careers. One of these lucky and talented few is Benjamin Cook, currently in rehearsals for the upcoming Broadway production of the new musical Tuck Everlasting.
Cook began taking ballet, jazz, and tap at the age of seven at the Metropolitan School of the Arts in Northern Virginia. Though he had a strong love for jazz, he stopped taking class at the age of nine to focus on his career as an actor, performing in venues including Ford's Theatre and The Kennedy Center. He made his Broadway debut at the age of eleven as the understudy for Edgar in Ragtime before joining the company of Billy Elliot. It was there that he was reintroduced to the intricate world of ballet and tap, and suddenly discovered his passion for the art. Upon joining the tour of Billy Elliot, first playing Michael before moving up to the role of Billy, Cook began taking ballet class upwards of four times a week, also taking classes in tap and acrobatics. From there on, he grew tremendously as a dancer and began his exciting journey in the world of show business.
BroadwayWorld: Having been trained in many styles of dance, which would you say is your favorite and why?
Benjamin Cook: Honestly, I love the musical theatre style of dancing. It is, for sure, a very broad style of dance, but it's always so much fun and always tells a story; it's really just so beautiful and exciting. But, I will say that ballet was for sure what helped me the most to develop so much technique and helped me to be able to dance musical theatre.
BWW: You've been performing professionally since a very young age. What has been the hardest part of performing as a child?
BC: The hardest part of performing professionally at such a young age was definitely being away from my family. I moved to New York when I was eleven and my parents had to switch off taking care of me until we could find a permanent solution. And being on the road [with Billy Elliot] when I was thirteen, and then once again when I was sixteen with Newsies, was really hard. I was on my own, away from my family, and barely ever got to see them.
In October of 2014, Cook joined the first national tour of the Tony Award winning musical, Newsies. He portrayed the role of Race, also understudying the role of Crutchie, traveling to forty cities in the United States and Canada over the span of seventeen months. The musical, with choreography by Christopher Gattelli, is an extremely dance heavy show, incorporating styles such as tap, jazz, and ballet. Cook told us how he, along with the other cast members, kept their bodies in tip top shape to be able to perform the show each night.
BC: Stretching, stretching, stretching! Stretching was a huge part of getting through that show [every night]. We also had a physical therapist who would travel with us on the road so that if our bodies were ever [not feeling great], we had her to go to. Also, keeping up with cardio was very important so that our stamina was up because it was definitely a very difficult show to do eight times a week.
Upon leaving the tour of Newsies, Cook was cast in the Broadway production of Tuck Everlasting, based upon the book of the same name. Switching from one show to the other, as Cook tells us, was quite challenging.
BC: Tuck Everlasting is definitely more of a balletic type of movement whereas Newsies was more down and gritty, and dirty, and hard hitting. They are both extremely different, but I love both styles because it's such an amazing and rewarding challenge to go from more of a tricky, jazz, athletic [style of dance] to a flowing, contemporary choreography.
BWW: What would you say is the main reason you love dancing so much?
BC: I just absolutely love to do it. My favorite part would probably be getting to share it with other people through performing in shows. It's really great, getting to go on stage every night and do what I love, and I love being able to share that with people in the audience who might be dancers or actors or might have nothing to do with the arts at all. I love being able to pass on my love for it to all the people watching, whether they are dancers or not.
BWW: It's no doubt been stressful though, performing professionally while still growing up and also training as a dancer and artist. What would you say has been the hardest thing you have had to learn so far?
BC: I would say the hardest thing I've had to learn is that your body is not indestructible. I remember when I was younger, I wouldn't stretch very often and would go from zero to a hundred without really thinking about it. And that's okay when you're really young, but the older you get, the more your body needs to be taken care of. I remember I suffered a heel injury when I was in Billy Elliot and was out of the show for about four months, and that was really hard; I never stretched and that was definitely a wake up call for me, having to make sure I kept my body warmed up and healthy.
BWW: What advice would you give to those hoping to one day pursue a career similar to yours?
BC: I would say my best advice would be that if it's really something that you want to do, and this really is your passion, follow it no matter what. In this business, unfortunately, there are hundreds of no's to one yes, and it can be really hard. But if you know this is what you want to do with your life, never give up. I know, personally, it's something I have always had a passion for and have longed to do, and everyone in this business is in it, not for the job security or the paycheck, but because it's what they love.
Make sure to catch Cook in Tuck Everlasting, opening April 26th, 2016 at the Broadhurst Theatre.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride / WM Photos