Tour Cast Member Has Ties to OV

Another cast member of “Billy Elliot the Musical,” now playing in Pittsburgh, has ties to the Ohio Valley.

Design Editor Phyllis Sigal profiled Leah Hocking, who plays ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson in the production, for TGIF last weekend. Hocking, as it turns out, has connections to both Wheeling and East Liverpool.

I have learned that Vanessa Russo, a member of the Broadway touring company’s troupe, also has ties to Wheeling. “Billy Elliot the Musical” is playing at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District now through Sunday, Feb. 12.

Russo is the daughter of Wheeling native Tereza Dick Russo, who now lives in Sarasota, Fla., and granddaughter of the late Walker Dick, who owned the old Ohio Valley Yacht Club on Wheeling Island.

The 26-year-old dancer, who grew up in Sarasota and began dancing at age 3, is a “swing” in the cast of “Billy Elliot the Musical,” covering many different female roles. In that capacity, she has to be ready to go onstage in a moment’s notice to substitute for one of the characters.

Tereza Dick Russo, who planned to travel north to see her daughter during this touring stop, said their family has a special connection to the Benedum Center. She said that Dick, her father and Vanessa’s grandfather, performed onstage there when the Benedum was the Stanley Theatre.

In addition to owning the yacht club and other business ventures, Dick had been a circus performer and had organized an acrobatic troupe, the All American Boys, in Wheeling. The young acrobats toured around the country, appearing with circuses and on televised variety shows.

Tereza Dick Russo said she grew up on Wheeling Island. She attended Triadelphia High School for a year, then transferred to Wheeling High School, graduating in 1973, and later attended West Virginia University. She has lived in Sarasota for many years.

Meanwhile, her daughter attended Point Park University in Pittsburgh, with a concentration in musical theater and dance, in 2003-04. She left school to join the Broadway national tour of “Oklahoma!” and later traveled in Europe and Asia for a year with a Broadway touring production of “West Side Story.” Vanessa Russo said she also was a featured dancer for the film, “Across the Universe.”

In addition to studying and performing in dance and theatrical productions, Vanessa Russo said she learned skills as an aerialist through the influence of her maternal grandmother, Beatrice Konyot, who performed for the Ringling Brothers Circus and appeared in the movie, “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

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The senseless shooting of Columbus resident David Bompart in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Tuesday, Jan. 24, has caused serious worries for an extended Ohio Valley family.

As recounted in an Associated Press article published in The Intelligencer last Saturday, Jan. 28, Bompart, 50, was shot and injured critically outside a bank where he was picking up money for an orphanage building project.

Bompart was transferred to a hospital in Miami, leaving another member of his mission team, Greg Gammon of Columbus, in charge of both the construction and the financial aspect of the building project.

Gammon had traveled to Haiti for a three-month mission trip under the auspices of a charitable organization that Bompart and his wife, Nicolle, operate.

Gammon’s wife is Wheeling native Christy Cooey Gammon, daughter of Gary and Debbie Cooey of Wheeling. Christy is a 1993 graduate of Wheeling Park High School and a graduate of Bethany College. She and her husband are the parents of a 3-year-old girl, Kate.

Debbie Cooey said the orphanage is being built to accommodate 40 children. The new residents, she said, will include 32 children who have been living in tents since an earthquake devastated Haiti two years ago.

Linda Comins can be reached via e-mail at: