I was looking forward to this live broadcasting since… well since it was announced. You can imagine how pleased I was to hear director Stephen Daldry revealing there were some surprises for the audience that night. You might have read about it already, but I was truly surprised and delighted by the return of Liam Mower. Alongside James Lomas and George Maguire he originated the role of Billy Elliot back in 2005. He was recently staring Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake as the Prince and his dance and expression is just dazzling.
As we speak of dazzling, there was an unanimous „Aaaaw“ going through the audience, when Liam Sargeant entered the stage through the seating, sitting down in front of an imaginary telly. Watching old television news, we were drawn into the musical. Come on at least pretend you’re doing fine… No other sentence could describe Billy Elliot the Musical – Live! better than this. It is the story of a young boy from a mining village like Easington Colliery (which provided the setting for the 2000 film). Since his mother passed away, his father is nothing but memories and ghosts, working hard and participating in the 1984-85 coal miners‘ strike. He sends his son boxing, ignoring his passion to dance. When Billy first meets Mrs. Wilkinson and her ballet girls, he is forced to take a lesson but eventually enjoys himself. Stumbling at first, the boy shows some talent, which leads Mrs. Wilkinson to consider him for an audition at the Royal Ballet School. You can imagine how this leads to trouble. Billy Elliot the Musical is a miscellaneous piece, first an foremost about dealing with pride, in my opinion. It’s about a father learning to be proud of his son, no matter if he is a dancer or a miner. It’s about a brother, swallowing his pride to keep a family together and it’s about a son, learning to be proud of the path he chose. There are, of course, many more aspects to be taken to account. The musical is about learning and growing and… swearing. Jap, the characters tend to swear a lot. I didn’t count, but the f-word was used so continuous, I’m not quite sure the actors still noticed uttering it.
Anyway, set Designer Ian McNeil created a wonderful diverse stage which could function as boxing, respectively ballet studio and is easily transferred to the Elliot’s home through fancy moving stage elements. One of my favorite sets was the room of Michael – lovely portrayed by Zach Atkinson – Billy’s best friend. He loves to dress up in women’s clothes (and there we have the pride again) and therefore has of course a wonderful wardrobe stuffed with dresses, shoes and accessories. Bringing the show to live, choreographer Peter Darling did the greatest job. I loved the male ensemble in Grandma’s Song, not least because of the marvelous costumes designed by Nicky Gillibrand. The half ballet half modern dance choreography coming with Solidarity, really made me wanna stand right up and join the dance. Watching the show was pure fun!
And yes, of course I’m going to say something about the cast. You knew I was about to spoil it all in the beginning, talking about Liam Mower. I could barely pull myself together. First and foremost: Elliot Hanna is an amazingly talented boy! By playing Billy Elliot, it was obvious he needed to be a skilled dancer. But seeing him developing from a trembling and insecure boy to a passionate ballet dancer was just mind blowing. And guess what. Hanna is a good actor and has a pleasing singing voice as well. His stage presence was incredible, considering he is only 11 years old. And yet again I doubt finding that much talent being as well supported here in Germany. It’s a shame.
I’d like to point out the acting skills of Deka Walmsley and Chris Grahamson. The former portraying Billy’s Dad, Jack Elliot. He is scary, choleric and at the same time a broken man. Seeing him bursting into tears at the Christmas party and deciding to compromise his principals to enable his son a better future was moving. More than once I was just about to tear up. Unfortunately I didn’t like his voice it lacked power. I’m not sure if that was due to his character, for I hadn’t heard him before in a musical. Chris Grahamson was horrifying! Acting somewhere between disgusting, ignorant tramp not wearing pants and fierce young miner, standing up for his rights and trying to keep his family together in his own way, he took the stage as he was born up there. Not surprising but no less delighting was the performance of Olivier Award winner Ruthie Henshall. Even though she was afraid not to be as „see if I care“ as Mrs. Wilkinson, she definitely did Shine. I love to hear her clear and trained voice, which can easily switch from smokey and sensual to strong and dramatic.
Billy Elliot – The Musical runs since 2005 at the Victoria Palace Theatre and topping the UK cinema box office it is most likely to extend it’s booking period again. If you were unable to see the show at the West End or in cinemas yet, you’ll get plenty of time to do so. Furthermore, it was announced that there will be a DVD of this wonderful event available in November. You definitely wanna have it, as it contains surprise number two! For a great finale, 27 former and the current Billy Elliots assembled on stage for a gigantic Swan Lake Mash Up! I was thrilled to see so many great dancers and asked myself more than once how the hell one could move a body like that. It was an unique ending for this terrific event!
Auri der Theatergeist