Feature Blogs

A Standing Ovation For Billy Elliot: The Musical

Created on Tuesday, 26 July 2005 21:00
Written by Matthew Toomey


Well I’m back from London having spent the last 2 weeks there with a brief journey to Scotland to check out the British Open golf. I did sleep for 17 straight hours on Sunday which has left me unable to catch up on any movies since I’ve been gone.


Anyone who knows me or has visited my website will know my favourite film of the past 10 years (since I’ve been reviewing). It’s Billy Elliot, directed by Stephen Daldry and released on November 2, 2000. I have no doubt in making this statement and when you think of the 1,800 odd films I’ve seen in that time, it’s an honour to the people responsible for the film.


The film was a quiet hit – lots of people loved it but it never a major blockbuster release. It was nominated for 3 Academy Awards and these were for best director (Stephen Daldry), best screenplay (Lee Hall) and best supporting actress (Julie Walters). This came as a surprise and the film only narrowly missed out on a best picture nomination (disappointing overlooked at the expense of Chocolat).


Back home in Britain, it was nominated for 13 British Academy Awards! The bigger surprise came at the ceremony when 14 year old Jamie Bell, the star of the film, won the best actor BAFTA. That year he beat Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Tom Hanks (Cast Away), Michael Douglas (Wonder Boys), and Geoffrey Rush (Quills). How about that!


The film was also received well at film festivals. At the lucrative Toronto Film Festival in 2000, it was placed third behind Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Dish.


Well, back in April 2005, a musical version of the film was put together by the original director Stephen Daldry and original writer Lee Hall. They collaborated with Elton John to craft the music and lyrics for the songs.


This was incredibly exciting for me personally to see an all-time favourite film re-made into a theatrical format! More exciting were the reviews from London papers. It is the top musical currently showing in London. Here’s a sampling of the reviews…


Wor Billy! What a sensation, what an inspiration. At last, a musical that’s rough, raw and, above all, political. From the sheer exuberance of its young stars, to the captivating choreography, it’s far more than a feel-good evening” – Janet Street-Porter, The Independent On Sunday


“It’s not a time to beat about the bush. Billy Elliot strikes me as the greatest British musical I’ve ever seen and I have not forgotten Lionel Bart’s Oliver! or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom Of The Opera. There is a rawness, a warm humour and a sheer humanity… big bold, imaginative and great-hearted. Elton John has written a wonderful score that ranges from folk to hard rock, from razzle-dazzle show tunes to searing anthems of human solidarity and defiance. The whole cast is blessed with a freshness and sincerity I have rarely seen equaled, and one leaves this triumphant production in a mist of tears and joy.” – Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph


“Funny, touching and shamelessly enjoyable” – Paul Taylor, The Independent


“Billy’s a whizz! He’ll lift your spirits, make you cry and send you home high with hope” – Quentin Letts, The Daily Mail


“Brit Musical of the decade has arrived” – Sheridan Morley, The Daily Express


“It’s almost like being in love” – Ben Brantley, The New York Times


“Billy triumphs! The best British musical since Oliver!” - Peter Willis, The Daily Mirror


“A unique experience in London’s theatreland” – Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard


“Billy Elliot is unforgettably brilliant” – Susannah Clapp, The Observer


“Truly electrifying… this heart-stopping show is a must see” – Georgina Brown, The Mail On Sunday


Now I’m no musical critic and in fact, I’ve never been to see a real musical before. I think it’s because we have such few offerings in Brisbane and it’s an event you have to book and plan weeks in advance (which is always a pain).


But I was certainly not going to miss the chance to Billy Elliot: The Musical so last Tuesday (July 19), I queued up for 3 hours at the Victoria Palace theatre in London to secure two of the 50 day tickets which were on sale (for 25 pounds each). Amazingly, I got to sit in the front row, just 4 seats from the centre aisle!


Returning that evening, I was completely dazzled by what was on stage. There were no big-name stars in the cast but they came together brilliantly. The lighting, the set, the song lyrics were all incredible. It held true to the spirit of the film but there were a few small adjustments made which came as a great surprise. The two best moments (if I had to choose) would be a scene between Billy and Michael where they try a little clothing “experimentation” and a scene in which Billy dances before his dad for the first time (done to the music from Swan Lake).


Three different actors have been cast as Billy and they take turns performing each night at the Victoria Theatre. I can understand why this is necessary since 9 shows a week would be an incredible demand on such a young actor. At my show, we were treated to a lead performance by James Lomas. I didn’t see the other two Billy’s of course but I can’t imagine them being better than James. I can’t find the right adjectives to say how incredible he was. Sitting in the front row gave us an opportunity to scrutinize but he never left his character and director Stephen Daldry has made a fine decision in casting him.


I saw it with a friend who wasn’t a huge fan of the original film. He thought the musical was brilliant however and declared that it had increased his own approval for the film. When you break it down, it’s a modern day fairytale told with immaculate precision. You don’t have to be some ballet fan to appreciate it. The musical only illustrates even further just how great the story is.


Seeing the entire cast on stage for the curtain call was the perfect way to end a perfect evening. The crowd, including myself, gave them all a standing ovation. You could see in the faces of the cast, particularly those of the youngsters, just how much they enjoyed the experience and the acclaim they were receiving. If only we could all experience the euphoria of what they must have felt.


Now of course this may all mean very little to those in Australia. But if you are in London or plan on traveling there, this is must see musical!!! The show is booked out weeks in advance (the theatre holds 1500 people) so be prepared. It’s been extended through to April 2006 due to demand and I hope it continues on long after that (although they may need to recast the Billy’s who will be getting older).


You can check out more on the musical’s website at www.billyelliotthemusical.com.


So in what I can describe as my first, and perhaps only, theatrical review, Billy Elliot: The Musical gets an A+. No doubt there either.