From Screen to Stage: Differences Between the Film and Musical
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.