Billy Elliot - Show of the Month
Billy Elliot the Musical is on its way to becoming a national treasure, but where did it all start?
Lee Hall’s screenplay for Billy Elliot, the moving British drama about a motherless boy named Billy who swaps his boxing gloves for a pair of ballet shoes, was a very unlikely candidate for an all-singing all-dancing musical adaptation. However, back in 2005 the leap of faith was made and thus was Billy Elliot the Musical born into existence. Now well into its tenth year at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London, the musical has proved to be one of the most popular musicals in the history of the West End and the demand for tickets only seems to increase with the years!
The story of Billy’s personal struggle is set against the backdrop of the UK miners’ strike of 1985 in County Durham, in North Eastern England. Lee Hall has mentioned that much of the inspiration for Billy Elliot came from A. J. Cronin’s 1935 novel, The Stars Look Down, which deals with a miners’ strike and is also the title for the shows opening number.
The musical has proved to be one of the most popular musicals in the history of the West End and the demand for tickets only seems to increase with the years.
As the musical begins, we arrive in County Durham griped in the throws of the 1985 coal miners’ strike. An eleven-year-old boy named Billy stays behind after his weekly boxing class at his local village hall, only to find himself enrolled in Mrs Wilkinson’s ballet class and what's more, he’s the only boy! Billy keeps the dance classes a secret from his father and brother, both of whom are on strike and are too busy clashing in riots with the police to notice his new choice of unconventional hobby. But, like most things, Billy’s secret doesn’t stay secret for long and finally when his father does cotton-on to the ballet classes, he bans Billy from attending the lessons with Mrs Wilkinson, much to Billy’s dismay. However, Mrs Wilkinson knows talent when she sees it and continues to coach Billy privately with the view to audition for the Royal Ballet School in London. On the day of the audition at the Royal Ballet School, Billy fails to show up causing Mrs Wilkinson to arrive at the Elliot home and reveal to Billy’s father and brother the true scale of Bill’s talent for ballet, this news greatly upsets them both and they eject Mrs Wilkinson from the house and ban Billy from ever dancing again. A year passes and Billy hasn’t touched his ballet shoes, but one snowy evening at the village Christmas show, Billy dances and is watched unknowingly by his father, who then promptly tracks down Mrs Wilkinson and gives her permission to take Billy for the Royal Ballet School audition. Once back from the audition in London, the Elliots difficult life of strikes, police riots and poverty continue, but this time everyone is waiting for the letter that will decide Billy’s fate and when it does finally arrive the news is what everyone has been wanting, Billy has been accepted at the Royal Ballet School and his future looks much brighter.
As heartwarming and political a story you could want, but the task of bringing this story to life on stage was no small matter. The production was originally planned to open at the Tyne Theatre in Newcastle, but this idea was dropped as the shows scale and budget grew bigger and more ambitious, reportedly costing £5.5 million in total. So a new home was found for the musical at the Victoria Palace Theatre.
After a month of previews, the production officially opened on 11 May 2005 to five-star reviews from nearly all the national newspapers. Particular praise was given to Stephen Daldry’s slick and tender direction, Peter Darling’s energetic and soaring choreography and actress Hayden Gwynne for her touching portrayal of Billy’s ballet teacher Mrs Wilkinson. Ian MacNeil’s clever set design was also given much attention by the critics, mostly for the inventive way it moves the action on stage from reality to fantasy.
In its opening year, Billy Elliot the Musical was nominated for an astounding nine Olivier Awards, going on to win four.
In its opening year, Billy Elliot the Musical was nominated for an astounding nine Olivier Awards, going on to win four, including Best Choreography, Best Sound Design and Best New Musical. The big surprise of the night came when the three young actors playing the role of Billy jointly won the Oliver Award for Best Actor in a Musical, something that has been mirrored more recently with the three young actresses playing Matilda in Matilda the Musical. The Broadway production of Billy Elliot the Musical received 15 Tony Award nominations and went on to win ten when it opened in 2009.
There has been and continues to be productions of the Elton John composed musical in Melbourne (Australia), New York, Chicago (USA), Toronto (Canada), Seoul (South Korea), Oslo and the Netherlands. The production has also received two UK tours that sold out in each and every city that it arrived in.
Although Billy Elliot the Musical can not claim to be the longest running musical in the West End, it can take a shot at the title for most popular, seeing as audiences return to this musical time and time again in search of the guaranteed ‘full package’ and never go home disappointed.
Billy Elliot the Musical is currently booking until 19 December 2015 at the Victoria Palace Theatre.
Billy Elliot is our show of the month with top price tickets just £37.50! Save over 40%.