As the previous London production of this great musical was so iconic, it’s hard for those of us who remember it not to think back to it. And indeed it is all so familiar – and sitting in the Curve Theater in Leicester watching the proceedings unfold, I thought to myself, as the late Jim Steinman wrote, “It’s all coming back to me now”. Yet this is an entirely different, gloriously reimagined production. Somehow he manages to squeeze twenty minutes (maybe a little more) out of the West End production runtime, without sacrificing any of the show’s highlights.
Billy (Jaden Shentall-Lee on press night, sharing the role throughout the run with Leo Hollingsworth, Alfie Napolitano and Samuel Newby) is, for those unaware, a working class boy from Easington , a village in County Durham, growing at the time of the miners’ strike of 1984-85, a courageous but ultimately unsuccessful monumental effort to prevent mine closures by the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, who had reason to believe that it was better to import coal from overseas because it was cheaper (at the time).
At a time when the cost of living crisis is mounting, elements of the story are very relevant – Jackie Elliot (Joe Caffrey), Billy’s father, struggles to find enough money to support him and his family. Arguably, Jackie’s position is more relevant now than it was a generation ago, with her mother (an engaging Rachel Izen) in the house as well as Billy and her eldest son Tony (Luke Baker) in the House. It also doesn’t help that his wife (Jessica Daley) is dead — and as feminists have pointed out, it only compounds the musical’s downplaying of women’s substantial role during the extended strike.
The sound design (Adam Fisher) is excellent – it’s fair to say that not all major musical productions are capable of making every lyric and every bit of spoken dialogue heard clearly: it’s an even greater achievement given the accents distinctly no Curve Leicestershire for this. production, fixed as it is in the northeast. This production seems to have made less use of specific phrases (the West End production’s program had an entire page devoted to explaining the meaning of the terminology used on the show), and in doing so made it more accessible.
The stage space available is beautifully utilized, with Elliot’s House (my own term) on three levels. I hesitate to use the word “immersive” because that term has different connotations for a show in which the audience remains seated in a typical theater setup throughout, albeit with characters repeatedly stepping in and out of the room. In the auditorium itself, patrons seated in the stalls feel more involved in the action than they would otherwise.
On paper, the blocking in Act 1’s “Solidarity” isn’t terrible: the adult characters, who bicker and fight against each other in the juvenile industrial action, cut Mrs Wilkinson (Sally Ann Triplett) and her class of children (would) be too intrusively dancers. Again, this indicates that the news is interfering with the lives of innocent children, a helpful reminder that minors themselves were not the only ones affected by the conflict.
George Dyer leads an enthusiastic orchestra, and the sheer amount of talent on stage translates into a production that flows well and is thoroughly engaging from start to finish. Michael (Prem Masani on press night, sharing the role throughout the run with Bobby Donald, Lucas Haywood and Ethan Shimwell) gets his moment to shine in ‘Expressing Yourself’, in a scene more poignant than ever, in these days of greater acceptance of people who don’t necessarily adhere to binary standards.
This show’s core message of sticking together (one of the musical numbers is called “Solidarity” for a reason) despite life and political powers that might be thrown at people is, whether by default or by design (or both), very topical. It gets a little hammered in places, and a few more tears are shed than one would reasonably expect from the rough and rugged Nordic setting. But there are some hearty laughs in a fiery, loud and splendid production that left me with the distinct feeling that this will be a show that will be remembered for a long time.
Comment by Chris Omaweng
The first new British production of Billy Elliot the Musical is now open at the Curve Theater in Leicester. Directed by Nikolai Foster (A Chorus Line, Sunset Boulevard – At Home, West Side Story), the musical Made at Curve now runs through Saturday, August 20.
The lead role of Billy Elliot, the son of the ballet-loving miner, is played by Leo Hollingsworth from Nottinghamshire, Alfie Napolitano from Northamptonshire, Samuel Newby from Hertfordshire and Jaden Shentall-Lee, whose family lives in Leicestershire.
Billy’s dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson is played by West End and Broadway legend Sally Ann Triplett, whose iconic roles include Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes (National Theater and Theater Royal Drury Lane) and Young Phyllis in Follies (Shaftesbury Theatre), as well as Martha on White Christmas’ recent Made at Curve UK tour.
Billy’s best friend Michael is played by Bobby Donald, Lucas Haywood, Ethan Shimwell and Leicester’s Prem Masani, who makes his stage debut in the production.
All from the East Midlands, Pearl Ball, Caitlin Cole, Lola Johnstone and Ellie Copping – who returns to the Curve stage after starring as Susan Waverly in the 2018 Made at Curve production of White Christmas – share the role of Debbie, Mrs. Wilkinson’s daughter.
Joe Caffrey, who previously starred in the West End production of Billy Elliot the Musical, joins the cast as Billy’s Dad Jackie, while Broadway and West End sensation Rachel Izen plays Billy’s Grandma Edna. Luke Baker (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Grease’s Made at Curve UK tour) plays Billy’s older brother Tony, and Jessica Daley (recently seen in the Made at Curve productions of White Christmas and The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber) plays Billy’s Mam.
The adult company is completed by Craig Armstrong as George, Minal Patel as Big Davey, Cameron Johnson as Mr. Braithwaite, Micky Cochrane as Scab, Robin Paley Yorke as Lesley, Christopher Wright as Mr. Wilkinson, Michael Lin as Pit Supervisor, Jonathan Dryden Taylor as Posh Dad, William Atkinson as Older Billy and ensemble, and Steph Asamoah, Tori McDougall, Anna Rossa and Louie Wood as ensemble members.
The young company of ballet dancers and boxers, most of whom are based in the Midlands or have local family ties, include Willow Adamson, Maddie Seren Ashley, Oliver Back, Aneeka Kaur Bains, Ella-Rose Blackburn Price, Harvey Clarridge, Lily Corkill, Miley Dalton, Matisse Didier, Isabelle Francis, Ethan Galeotti, Rahul Gandabhai, Isla Granville, Uzziah Grey, Orlaith Rae Hunt, Ava Rose Johnson, Ava Mia Komisarczuk, Kyrelle Lammy, Lienna-Jean Langdon, Tahlia Maddox, Lorcan Murphy, Nesisa Mhindu, Sophia Pirie, Hayden Polanco, Gopal Thacker and Mirabelle Varakantam.
The Made at Curve production of Billy Elliot the Musical is choreographed by Lucy Hind, with musical supervisor and musical director George Dyer. The set is designed by Michael Taylor with costumes designed by Edd Lindley. Rounding out the creative team are lighting designer and Curve associate Ben Cracknell, sound designer Adam Fisher, props supervisor Lizzie Frankl, wig, hair and makeup supervisor Helen Keane for Campbell Young Associates, RYTDS Resident Assistant Director Lilac Yosiphon, Birkbeck Trainee Director Thyrza Abrahams, Associate Choreographer James Berkery, Associate Sound Designer Oliver Durrant, Assistant Music Director Josh Cottell, Assistant Choreographer Joanna Goodwin, Dialect Coach Elspeth Morrison , fight director Kev McCurdy and chief chaperone Helen ‘H’ Mclaren-Frost.
Children’s casting is handled by Jo Hawes, with adult casting led by Curve Associate Kay Magson CDG.
BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSIC
WED 13 JUL – SAT 20 AUGUST 2022