With multi-talented child actors at its centre, Billy Elliot can be a good option for families with pre-teens and teenagers.
The production contains swearing, some of it by the children themselves, and there are a few violent altercations between the police and striking miners. Therefore, it is recommended for children 12 and up. Children under 8 will not be admitted.
The play contains positive messages about individuality and acceptance, mainly regarding Billy’s working class background, attitudes towards a boy pursuing dance, and Billy’s friend, Michael, who is gay. Set against the backdrop of the 1984-5 mining strikes, it is an accessible way to learn about some of the social and political issues during Margaret Thatcher’s term as Prime Minister.
Whilst an energetic and fun night out, Billy Elliot does not contain the same level of spectacle as other West End hits like The Lion King, Shrek, and Wicked, which are better options for younger children. However, pre-teens and teenagers will probably prefer the more mature and relatable themes contained in Billy Elliot to other lighter fare.
Perhaps best-known for his rock career that has spanned over forty years, Sir Elton John has become one of the world’s biggest names in musical theatre.
His first foray into musical theatre was a cameo appearance singing ‘Pinball Wizard’ in the film version of The Who’s rock opera, Tommy in 1975.
In 1994, John and Tim Rice wrote the music for Disney’s animated feature, The Lion King. The soundtrack was the best-selling album in the US for nine consecutive weeks and provided 3 out of the 5 Oscar nominees for Best Song, winning for ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’. His release of the song as a single also won Elton a Grammy Award.
Following the overwhelming success of the film, The Lion King was adapted as a musical, opening on Broadway in 1997. The production was a massive hit, receiving 11 Tony nominations, including Best Score for John, and going on to win 6, including Best Musical. It is currently the seventh longest-running show in Broadway history after more than 5,000 performances.
The West End transfer of The Lion King achieved similar critical acclaim, including 3 Olivier nominations. It has been one of the hottest tickets in town since its opening in 1999, regularly playing to sold-out houses. Other successful productions have been launched all over the world, including Toronto, Hamburg, Sydney, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Taipei, and Singapore.
John and Rice teamed up again in 2000 on Aida, a musical adaptation of Verdi’s opera. Telling the story of an Egyptian captain who falls in love with an enslaved Nubian princess, the production was another huge hit, winning 4 Tony awards including Best Score. The play closed after four successful years on Broadway.
In 2005, John wrote the music for the smash-hit musical, Billy Elliot, an adaptation of the film about a working-class British boy who becomes a ballet dancer. Opening to critical acclaim, the West End production won 4 Olivier awards including Best Musical, whilst the Broadway transfer won a staggering 10 Tony awards. The London production continues to be on of the West End’s biggest sellers.
John next teamed up with his long-time songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, on Lestat the Musical, based on Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. After a hugely successful pre-Broadway tryout in San Francisco, the production underwent major changes, including scrapping a number of songs and key theatrical elements. Upon opening in New York, the show received unilaterally scathing reviews, including from the New York Times who called it a “musical sleeping pill”. A financial flop, it closed after just 39 performances.
With Billy Elliot and The Lion King still playing extended runs in the West End, John took up residence at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas with his show, The Million Dollar Piano in September, 2011. It is scheduled to run through 2014.
Warning: spoilers ahead!
In adapting the film for the stage, creators Lee Hall and Elton John took on the formidable task of adding music to the beloved story of a boy who loves ballet.
With 15 original songs, Billy Elliot the Musical uses theatricality to enhance the story, with striking miners zigzagging between members of a ballet class in tutus. As a result, the community has a much bigger presence in the stage adaptation, and the effect of the strike on the workers is a clearer and more devastating presence. Anti-Thatcher sentiments are more fully illustrated with the Act 2 opener, ‘Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher’.
The character of Grandma is given a lot more to do in the musical, growing from a minor character in the film to a tap-dancing diva with ‘Grandma’s Song’.
One of the challenges in bringing Billy Elliot to the stage was finding child actors who could sing and dance as well as act. Whilst the film only needed on actor, Jamie Bell, to play Billy, the West End production requires a rotating cast of four actors. These actors need to be able to dance tap and ballet extensively, whereas in the film Jamie Bell only needed to dance ballet very little.
In the musical, Mrs Wilkinson arranges for Billy to audition for the Royal Ballet School, but is prevented from bringing him to the audition when Billy’s father finds out about it. However, in the film, Billy misses the audition because his brother Tony is arrested after a skirmish with the police over protests over the mine’s planned closure. In both versions, the community later raises the money for Billy to travel to London to audition.
The film ends 14 years after the mining strikes, with Billy’s dad, brother, and his friend, Michael, watching him perform in Swan Lake. The musical instead ends with Billy saying goodbye to Michael as he leaves for the Royal Ballet School, although earlier in the play he performs a piece from Swan Lake alongside his twenty-five-year-old self.