Hometown: Albany, New York
Currently: Taking the lead on Broadway as one of Billy Elliot’s five rotating title stars.
Hit the Stage Running: The third of four children, Clemente was following in his older brother and sister’s footsteps when he strapped on a pair of tap shoes and started hoofing at age seven (at Eleanor’s School of Dance, the same studio that produced London Billy Elliot star Corey Snide). “I’d been watching them and decided I wanted to try it, just for fun,” he recalls, mopping off sweat after a recent Billy dance rehearsal. “I didn’t think then it’d lead to anything like competitive dance or Broadway.” However, the memory of his very first recital reveals that Clemente had the ambition needed to take dance from a “fun” hobby to the next level even at that early age: “We tap-danced to ‘Going to the Chapel.’ I wanted to prove I knew all the steps and wasn’t copying off anyone else in the class, so I rushed all the steps on purpose. I did everything first. I’ve slowed down a lot since then though!”
Competitive Edge: Unsurprisingly, that first class led to numerous competitive dance titles, including “Mr. Star Quest,” as well as choice roles in community theater productions. It also led to a tough choice. “I was a wrestler and really liked it, but I finally had to pick dance or wrestling since practices conflicted. It was kind of hard,” Clemente explains. He exercised mature logic when choosing his path. “I thought, ‘Say you become the best wrestler in the world and win the Olympics—what happens after that? Not that much.’ I enjoyed dancing and felt like I could do it a long time, so that’s what I picked in the end.” The young performer’s career savvy paid off quickly—he was just 10 years old when a Billy Elliot casting director discovered him at a dance competition and suggested he give the blockbuster musical a shot. Clemente ended up being too young at the time, but he jumped to the top of the production’s list of talents to cultivate.
A True Gypsy: Clemente’s first Broadway audition actually came before Billy, when he answered an open call for The Lion King at age eight. “It didn’t go well!” he admits. “It was 2 degrees outside. My mother and I had to wait in a line five blocks long. I tried to sit in a Starbucks to warm up while my mom held my place, but they wouldn’t let me stay inside without a parent. And then I danced badly.” His next brush with Broadway, at an audition for Gypsy, was more successful: “I went to the call with my sisters, but they got cut. Then all the other boys were cut too. Finally it was just three of us. They brought [director and author] Arthur Laurents in and he looked at me and said, ‘Are you nervous?’ I said, 'No.' He said, ‘That’s good.’ I had a feeling I got the part then.” Clemente was right—he took the stage in September 2008 as a boy scout in the hit revival starring Tony winner Patti LuPone. “It was really scary and really exciting,” Clemente says of his Broadway debut. “And Patti LuPone is, like, the nicest woman ever.”
Camp Billy: In January 2010 Broadway came calling again, this time with news that Billy Elliot was ready to train Clemente to take on the challenging title role, which requires strong tap, ballet, jazz and acrobatic skills—not to mention singing and acting. Soon the young performer was trekking from Albany to New York multiple times a week for “Billy Camp,” where incoming stars get top-notch training. “Our family minivan has so many miles on it now,” he says with a laugh. “But Billy Elliot paid for the parking, so that was nice.” By spring, Billy was ready for Clemente, offering the hoofer a spot in the starring rotation. “I’d actually already gotten an offer to be Lucky in the tour of 101 Dalmatians, but then Billy came. It was an easy choice.”
Living the Dream (Role): After a short stint playing the part of Tall Boy, Clemente made his Billy debut in April 2010. “I was nervous from the time I woke up, through the whole day and up until the moment I got onstage,” he recounts. “We had a fancy dinner before the show—I ate a whole lobster. My brother kept teasing me that I’d throw it up once I got in the [flying] harness.” Despite bro’s ribbing, Clemente’s first performance went off without a hitch, setting the tone for his run with the show. “I love all of the kids, Greg Jbara, Kate Hennig—and I really love Carole Shelley. I still get excited about getting to fly, and do ‘The Angry Dance’ and ‘The Letter.'” There’s just one downside to getting one’s dream role at 13: “Billy was my dream role—now I’m not sure what to do next! Of course I want to do more Broadway shows. But I also really want to work with Tim Burton some day. So maybe that’s the new [dream].”