Billy Elliot The Musical is back. Based on the film of the same name, the musical opened in the UK in 2005. Billy Elliot The Musical was first staged in Australia in 2007 where it toured until 2009, and now returns for a 10th anniversary Australian tour.
Presented by Universal Theatrical Group, Working Title Films, Greene Light Stage, Michael Coppel Entertainment and Louise Withers presents, Billy Elliot the Musical featuring music by the legendary Elton John, book and lyrics by Lee Hall, choreography by Peter Darling and direction by Stephen Daldry. The musical has been seen by almost 12 million people worldwide and won over 80 awards internationally, including 8 Helpmann Awards in Australia.
The buzz of opening night for such a production was an exciting one, champagne flowing, cameras flashing and perhaps a little overwhelming for my young plus one seeing his first musical. Following the crowds to our seats, I met and chatted with the proud, nervous parents of tonight's performers sitting beside me.
The crowds quietening to the sounds of the crackling black and white newsreel celebrating the British coal industry only to move onto Margaret Thatcher promoting her public expenditure policy which hit the poor hardest cutting benefits and squeezing the power of unions. This sets the stage for Billy Elliot, The Musical.
The story is a courageous and uplifting one, following the journey of a young boy raised in a small British mining town. Billy's journey takes him out of the boxing ring during a time of turmoil of the 1984-85 miners' strike and into a ballet class where he discovers a passion for dance much to the disgust of his father and brother. However, it's a passion that eventually inspires his family, the whole community and in the process changes his life forever.
The cast of children brings an amazing energy and vibrancy to the show with a terrific ensemble. Jamie Rogers who played Billy Elliot on opening night, wowed us with his riveting dancing and captured our hearts as the tough kid whilst conveying a vulnerability with the loss of his mother and love for dance.
Kelley Abbey, Jamie Rogers. Credit James D. Morgan
Mrs Wilkinson is wonderfully played by Kelley Abbey who brings to life this colourful seasoned character with a tough exterior. With cigarette in hand, Mrs Wilkson is a sassy mentor who sees potential in Billy and genuinely wants to assist in his future for a better life.
Billy's father is played by Justin Smith who transforms from being ignorant to his son's needs to being his number one advocate taking him to his longed for audition and dives head first into the unknown world of ballet.
Billy's brother (played by Drew Livingston) takes on the plight of the passionate miner fighting to the last with believable conviction. Billy's absentminded Grandma (played by Vivien Davis) is hilarious in her scenes as well as Mrs Wilkinson's pianist Mr Brathwaite (played by Dean Vince) in his costume changes. The boxing teacher (played by Robert Grubb) is funny too with his interactions with the kids.
I will have to add Mrs Wilkinson's daughter Debbie (played by Gabrielle Daggar) will have you guffawing in laughter whilst Michael, Billy's good friend, Michael (played by James Sonnemann) puts on a joyous delightful cross-dressing performance.
The direction taken by Daldry is brilliant, not to mention the seamless transitions in the scenes by set designer Ian McNeil, lovely costumes by designer Nicky Gillibrand and skilled musicians in the orchestra playing their parts.
The Musical is a powerful show with its political and personal content. The raw grittiness of the world is displayed via the hostility between police and miners as well as the miners' hatred of Thatcher and scab labourers. Add to the mix, loads of swearing (cover your ears children) and splashes of self-expression through dance from Billy and his friend Michael to lighten the mood.
I found it interesting that the musical is relevant now as it was in history in regard to inequality of workers, stereotyping of genders, whilst muddling through the complicated human interactions with family, mentors and peers.
In the words of my son, "there was loads of singing, dancing and funny bits". There are many memorable scenes, a few of my favourites would have to be Billy's dream ballet with older self, Billy's rage dance scene, Billy and Mrs Wilkinson reading the letter aloud from Billy's late mother, Billy's dad singing a song in memory of his wife at the Christmas party and Mrs Wilkinson's classes with her dance troupe just to name a few.