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'Billy Elliot' Inspires at Segerstrom Center


Billy Elliot the Musical
Segerstrom Center for the Arts
Through April 28 Tuesday-Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
600 Town Center Dr.,
Costa Mesa
714.556.2787 :: scfta.org

Winner of 10 2009 Tony Awards and 11 drama desk awards, Billy Elliot the Musical is an incredibly popular show with longevity and has been one of the hottest tickets on Broadway since its opening. Based on the 2000 film, written by Lee Hall and directed by Stephen Daltry, the musical became a passionate project for Sir Elton John, who penned the music and promoted the show. It is an inspirational tale of a young, working class boy who finds a passion for ballet in the midst of the 1984 miner’s strike in Northern England.

I love to share “fun facts” when they are given to me - things you may not know about the show that really enhance your appreciation of it:  

More than 2,500 boys have auditioned for the role of Billy in the United States.

Since its world premiere, 27 boys have played Billy in London, 10 have played Billy in Australia and 13 boys have played the title role on Broadway. A total of 61 boys, including Jamie Bell, who played Billy in the film, have now performed the title role, some having performed in more than one production or moved to another continent to play the role. The boys playing Billy to date have hailed from England, Ireland, Scotland, USA, Canada, Australia, and Switzerland.

The average “Billy” stays in the role for 1.5 years.

During a week, the Billys spend six to eight hours in rehearsal and up to six hours in private dance classes. On top of that, they spend 15 hours a week in educational tutoring.

In every show, the performing Billy will wear seven pairs of shoes - sneakers (once), tap shoes (three), ballet slippers (once), bedroom slippers (once), and tap covers (once).

Each Billy has four pairs of ballet slippers at a time - a show pair, a back-up pair, a rehearsal pair, and a promotion pair.

Each boy grows out of their shoes at least once, often twice, during their time in the show.

Actors ages 6 to 80 have performed in the show since its world premiere.

The first North American performance was at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre on October 8, 2008. The Broadway production recently welcomed its 1.5 millionth patron.
(I was one of them in 2009.)

Casting team members travel to between 7-10 cities a year searching for the next Billy.

Over seven million people worldwide have seen the musical. Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh, Sharon Osborne, and Sir Elton John have made cameo appearances in the show.

The show has won 81 awards worldwide, including the Laurence Olivier Best Musical Award (London), the Helpmann Award for Best Musical (Australia) and 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical (Broadway) as well as multiple Dora Awards (Toronto) and Korea Musical Awards.

During the 2009 Tony Awards, the best actor award was shared by all four Billys in the production.

As usual, when they can, they do - Segerstrom Center for the Arts is offering pre-show activities to enhance your experience at the theater. Arrive an hour early and take a turn at ballet barres with instruction from dancers from the Anaheim Ballet, watch a documentary about Finding Billy, which outlines the casting process of three Broadway Billys, follow posters that are displayed throughout the lobby showing ballet's one through five for those who want to take a position, and have a photo opportunity at the station on the orchestra level.

Cons about the show do not outweigh the pros, in my opinion. Choreographer Peter Darling does an incredible job with Billy’s sequences, but there are times that the intersection of the two worlds is a bit cumbersome. The Northern England dialect is hard to understand, but you have to admire the actors for the authenticity, even if you are having a tough time deciphering it. Tear jerk sentimentality is placed at the appropriate time, during “The Letter” and I am a sucker for it, so bring a tissue if you have the same propensity. The first act is long (over 80 minutes) so hit the loo before you take your seat, because you do not want to miss a second of the talented young actors/dancers/singers in this show.

Billy is quadruple cast, and it is understandable, when you see the strenuous and committed performance these young actors must bring for the nearly three-hour show. They have dance experience way beyond their years (the Billy at our performance, Mitchell Tobin, is only 12 years old!) as well as acting and singing and dialect expertise. It is astonishing, and along with the other young actors in the show, it is what makes Billy Elliot so special. The highlight for me, and I am sure for everyone else, is the dance sequence of the young Billy and his future self. I think the sold-out house would have leapt to their feet after it - a true crowd-pleaser.

Great performances from Patti Perkins, who plays the endearing and inappropriate middle finger-waving Grandma, Rich Herbert, as Billy’s gruff but sentimental father and Janet Dickinson, who portrays Billy’s chain smoking ballet teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson. Favorites for me were Jake Kitchen (who reminded me of a young Angus T. Jones), who plays Michael, Billy’s cross-dressing pal and Kilty Reidy as Mr. Braithwaite, the accompanist and ballet teacher sidekick. As well, a strong performance from ballet dancer Maximilien A. Baud, who dances as older Billy, inspiring like the ghost of dancer future, what young Billy Elliot will become.

Elton John has some pop gems, such as “Solidarity,” “Merry Christmas Margaret Thatcher” and most especially, “Electricity,” which got some airplay when the song first came out. The 10-piece orchestra conducted by Bill Congdon is great and an important component in the show - if you have trouble with the actors' dialect, the music will definitely guide you through the story and Sir Elton’s interpretation of this heartfelt story of Billy Elliot.

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