We Allegro'd it to Manchester to see
Since its first performance in 2005, Billy Elliot the Musical has been a strong favourite for nearly 12 years. As well as London’s West End, the musical has so far toured Broadway, North America, South America, the Netherlands, Australia, South Korea - now the hit musical comes to Birmingham!
Visit Birmingham (that's us, hello) were lucky enough to preview Billy Elliot the Musical at Manchester’s Palace Theatre before the UK tour stops off in Birmingham this March.
After a backstage tour of the Palace, I was able to talk to some of the cast; Annette McLaughlin who plays Billy’s influential dance teacher (Mrs Wilkinson), Martin Walsh (Billy’s Dad), Scott Garnham (Tony; Billy’s older brother) and Jeroen Luiten (Resident Choreographer on the tour).
You could be forgiven for thinking that Billy Elliot is solely about the title character, however, the story follows the growth and emotional journeys of several key figures. Annette McLaughlin talked about the background story of the “sarcastic, chain-smoking, brilliant dance teacher” - originally played by our great local gem, Julie Walters – who, despite her own problems at home, sees potential in Billy and offers him a life that seems a million miles away from his home life in a struggling miner’s village.
As Billy’s dad, Martin Walsh recognised the shift in acceptance that British fathers have undergone within the last century and how he himself strives to be more like the supportive father of Billy’s that we see towards the end of the play. It’s difficult viewing to witness the once-stoical head of the family lose his livelihood during the miner’s strike, then learn to accept his son’s talent and go on to swallow his pride in order support his son’s chance to have a better life than he’s had. Billy’s dad’s personal journey inspires a community and provides some humane relief to the hardship that many Northern towns endured in the mid-‘80s.
A lot of audiences would already be familiar with the story of Billy Elliot thanks to the successful film version, though Scott Garnham who plays Billy’s hot-headed, older brother, assured us that the musical is not just a carbon copy of the cinematic version. On stage, there’s no allowance for error; each dancer must deliver every night as a performance can’t be edited like a film. Due to the differences in both art forms, the play has certainly created its own identity, separate from the film, and Scott described the play as “doing something different but still retaining what makes Billy Elliot special”. The stage performance offers a lot more comedy than the film which is definitely needed as is still retains the heartache and the struggle of the original story, which reduced many audience members to tears.
Another aspect of the play came from the resident choreographer and, just like the fictional Mrs Wilkinson in the play, Jeroen Luiten is continually inspired by the sheer talent and drive that all the child actors possess in this rousing play. Jeroen talked us through the gruelling practice schedule that the four actors who play Billy must undergo before they’re “stage-ready” and it’s clear to see why they need a week-long break every three weeks as it really is a full-time job!
One thing that the cast could all agree on is they’re looking forward to spending eight weeks in our ‘beautiful city’ in the spring and we can't wait to host them!
I was also lucky enough to see a matinee performance of the play and it was clear to see why Billy Elliot the Musical has won multiple Laurence Olivier and Tony Awards. The show has something for everyone; not only has the show included actors from age 6 to 84 years old but it will also make you cry, laugh, gasp and gaze in wonder at the amazing acting and dancing involved in the telling this touching tale.
Over 100 boys have played the title role of Billy worldwide and we were lucky enough to catch the talented local, Lewis Smallman, from West Bromwich, who blew the audience away with his flawless dance routines and very convincing Geordie accent. As well as the broad accents, the play delivered on authenticity with a wide array of profanity and the reaction on the faces of the audience was even more entertaining than the creative use of colourful language coming out of the mouths of innocent children.
The play ended with a spectacular finale in which we saw every single actor showing off their dance moves to the hilarious and catchy score that Elton John composed. Music and dance are as important to this play as the tale itself and choreographer Jeroen Luiten said this is because each song “tells a story”. There are no so-called ‘album tracks’ in this musical, each song has a purpose and allows the audience to understand the plight of each character in more depth. Having said that, the finale was a triumphant and entertaining ending that celebrated the love and hope that this play is infused with.
With only six weeks to go until Billy Elliot the Musical comes to Birmingham, I can’t wait to catch this heart-warmingly entertaining show again!
Get your tickets for Billy Elliot the Musical, at Birmingham Hippodrome from Tue 7th March – Sat 29th April 2017 right... about... here!
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