Originally when Billy Elliot opened in Australia over 10 years ago, I regretfully missed seeing it. So, when the 10th anniversary production was announced to visit Melbourne in 2020, I knew that this time, I wasn’t going to miss out.
Based on the incredible 2000 British dance drama film directed by Stephen Daldry and written by Lee Hall, the musical adaptation of Billy Elliot is unlike anything I have seen before on-stage. Cleverly entwined with wonderful songs, a strong narrative, displays of social inequality and political turmoil, the core of Billy Elliot is just about a boy who wants to dance.
Set in a northern town of England during the miner’s strike in 1984, the show follows the blue-collar Elliot family. While Billy’s older brother and father are adamant to continue with the strike, Billy’s journey is much different. Billy, completely lost from his mother’s recent death, is left to take care of his grandma while attempting to find an emotional outlet in boxing. When boxing will not suffice, Billy finds an interest and passion for dancing. In a stereotypical mindset of a small town where boys are expected to do sport and only girls dance ballet, Billy breaks the social boundaries within his family, within his town and discovers both expression and release in dance.
The Australian production consists of four talented young boys who share the starring role of Billy; 12-year-old Omar Abiad from Brisbane, 11-year-old River Mardesic of Melbourne, 13-year-old Wade Neilsen from Newcastle, and 13-year-old Jamie Rogers from Canberra. The four alternate every show, and for my viewing, I was blessed to witness Omar Abiad as Billy, accompanied with the almost show-stealing James Sonnemann as Billy’s best friend Michael and Gabrielle Daggar as the notorious Debbie.
Billy may not be a boy of many words, but he makes up for it when he dances. With Omar Abiad’s portrayal, you really feel Billy’s inner emotional turmoil with every move and expression in Abiad’s performance. It’s hard to believe that the young actor is only 12.
The set designs by Ian MacNeil and costumes by Nicky Gillibrand are both detailed, impressive and really bring you into Billy’s world. Even though this production is essentially a musical with catchy songs such as “Solidarity” and “Electricity”, the most impressive parts of the musical are the dance numbers. Admittedly, I have never been one to favour dance in theatre, but with Billy Elliot, the pieces are choreographed with so much care, passion and heart, it is hard not be touched by this spectacular piece of theatre.
The adult actors are just as strong, with Lisa Sontag as dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson who nurtures Billy’s gifts while also displaying authority and sass, and Billy’s dad played by Justin Smith who despite appearing rough around the edges and being surrounded by all the chaos in town, still fervently and deeply loves his son.
Even though I have seen the film before, Billy Elliot the Musical is still full of surprises for fans of the film and new viewers alike. It has a wonderful story to tell, great songs provided by the legendary Elton John, and is an inspiration both for its story and showcasing young talent. It really is incredible seeing what these four boys can do, appearing to effortlessly in turns; sing, act and dance on-stage every night. Not only is Billy Elliot one of the best musicals I have ever seen, but I was moved to tears and I’m now itching to go back. I want to witness all four of the Billys take centre stage.
Trust me, this musical is a must-see for EVERYONE.
Billy Elliot the Musical is now playing at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne until April 19. Grab yourself a ticket and see this incredible production. Don’t be a fool like I was last time and miss out. You may not get another chance.
For more information and ticketing, visit: https://billyelliotthemusical.com.au
Photography by James D. Morgan.