EXCLUSIVE: Eric Fellner, co-president of Working Title, and the creators of the hit Billy Elliot musical, have given their support to a non-replica production which will run at the UK regional theatre, The Curve, Leicester, from July 7.
The Curve’s artistic director, Nikolai Foster, who also directs the update with choreography by Lucy Hind, met in recent days with Fellner and Stephen Daldry, the original director of the show and the popular 2000 film version starring Jamie Bell in the lead role, for a metaphorical handover.
“The thing is, Nikolai and The Curve wanted to do their own production,” Fellner told Deadline, adding that original creators Lee Hall (book and lyrics), Elton John (music) and Peter Darling (choreography) “were all up to it.” comfortable with them doing that.
Fellner continued, “As part of the contract, there are certain things they may or may not do, like not changing the lyrics and the book, but in terms of the direction and the choreography and the design of the production is entirely their decision.
“We gave our blessing on a carte blanche basis where whatever they do, we wish them well,” Fellner added.
The show, set during Britain’s miners’ strike in the mid-1980s, about a motherless working-class boy from the North East of England who wants to be a ballet dancer, still resonates.
The show won top music awards at the Tony Awards and the Olivier Awards. The film version (which was not a traditional musical) caused a sensation at the box office and earned three Oscar nominations.
Curve’s upcoming production has generated a lot of excitement. Hundreds of young people auditioned for the key roles of Billy, his friend Michael and Debbie, the daughter of ballet teacher Mrs Wilkinson – West End and Broadway stalwart Sally Ann Triplett will play her. Above and embedded are the first behind-the-scenes footage from the production.
Foster chose four young boys to share the role of Billy: Leo Hollingsworth and Alfie Napolitano, both from Nottinghamshire; Samuel Newby from Hertfordshire and Jayden Shentall-Lee from Leicestershire. “A lot of them are making their debut,” Foster said.
It should be noted that the long list of actors who played Billy at Victoria Palace, London, during his decade-long career included Spider Man starring Tom Holland. David Alvarez, who played Bernardo in Steven Spielberg’s film version of Wis side storywas an original Billy when Billy Elliot opened at the Imperial Theater on Broadway.
Michael, Billy’s best friend, will be played by Bobby Donald, Lucas Haywood, Ethan Shimwell and Prem Masani. Pearl Ball, Caitlin Cole, Lola Johnstone and Ellie Copping will share the role of Debbie.
Foster and his team assembled a full cast of 55 for rehearsals; the 35 young actors also participated in a training camp for lessons in ballet, tap, gymnastics and boxing. He pointed out that “both boys and girls participate in the boxing workshops”.
The Curve executive said its cast and creative team will “exploit our stage and exploit our infrastructure” with minors and police walking through the Curve foyer and onto the stage. “The chaos will be wonderful,” Foster marveled.
The Curve licensed secondary rights through Music Theater International.
There will be interest in the show far beyond Leicester to see whether or not it could tour, and then perhaps head to the West End. And, who knows, maybe back on Broadway.
Fellner and Foster declined to comment on this potential. “I focus on putting Billy Elliot to the curve,” Foster said.
However, Deadline asked Fellner about the idea, originally floated by Elton John, Fellner and Universal Pictures execs, of possibly making a film version of the musical.
Fellner waited a moment and then confirmed that the movie musical, “It’s always just an idea that we talk about sometimes. Let’s see,” he said temptingly.