Billy Blanks. You’ll recognize the name if you caught any infomercials for Tae-Bo several years back. And while Billy Blanks, Jr. does offer a fitness/dance program at his Greenwich studio, Blanks Studio (his father, Billy Blanks, Sr., created Tae-Bo), that’s not what brings him to Norwalk and that’s not why you’ll remember his name.
The Erie, Pa.-born fitness guru and entertainer who is now a Greenwich resident, moved from the West Coast to accept the position of Artistic Director at Norwalk's Wall Street Theater – and he is on a mission to put the venue on the map. The theater, which was built in 1915 and has hosted acts from Vaudeville to Elvis over the years under various names and ownership, re-opened last May after a $10 million restoration.
“I love the idea of what this theater is about,” said Blanks. “I love that it’s open to new possibilities.
“There are other theaters around, but most are concerts only. What I love about this is the adaptability. We can do family and community shows, comedy, Broadway shows; we have a teen musical camp.”
Blanks is already putting his stamp on the theater by bringing in personal friends like Broadway star Betty Buckley to perform. He's also in discussions with good friends Paula Abdul and Patty Lupone to grace its stage.
But the theater is not just for song.
The first sell out under Blanks’ tenure was for a show by a local dance studio. The second, was for the Thunder from Down Under (“Girl’s Night Outback”). The boys from Down Under were so popular they recently made a second appearance. The theater also played host to Connecticut’s Got Talent, the local version of the popular NBC show,.
However, it's the Teen Theater Program that really puts the twinkle in Blanks' eye.
“I’m most excited about our teen musical group,” said Blanks. “The teens are from all over Connecticut and it’s so cool to watch the kids blossom. We’re doing this program every fall and spring."
Blanks plans on bringing in Broadway performers to work with the teen performers.
“Theater is my background – I’ve been performing and directing my whole life. I love what I’m doing!”
For its first performance ever, the Teen Theater Program is presenting “Fame” on June 9, 10 and 11. This one holds a truly special place in Blanks’ heart because he first found success as Tyrone, one of the leads, in the original Broadway show at the age of 19.
And while the theater has also been in the news for its financial woes, Blanks isn’t concerned.
“I’m not worried about it,” said Blanks. “I know their plans and what we have going forward.”
Some of these concerns will no doubt be alleviated by a $1.8 million tax credit funding check from electrical utility company Eversource, presented to the theater on June 1 in support of arts and community.
“I just want to tell the community to come out and support us. Support us so we can bring in the acts you want,” said Blanks.
For information about upcoming shows and tickets as well as the Teen Theater Program, visit Wall Street Theater.
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