The ripple effect of one’s life can be powerful. One single action can create a series of other actions. What’s set in motion can change across a broad spectrum of people, places and things. It’s the crux of the “Billy Elliot” story—the famed 2000 movie, which featured the fierce rock sounds of Marc Bolan, a.k.a. T-Rex. When it debuted in London’s West End in 2005, it came with a score penned by Sir Elton John, and book and lyrics by Lee Hall, who did the original screenplay.
“What I find most powerful about the story is that, while it is about Billy, it is also about what Billy does for everyone else,” Cathy Street tells. Street is directing the musical for Opera House Theatre Company, which premieres the show Thursday at Thalian Hall. “It is a great reminder to all of us, young and old, that who we are and what we do can have positive long-lasting effects on the lives of those around us.”
She has teamed up with choreographer Brooklyne Williamson-Moore and musical director Stephen Field. The show is a triple threat, in that it combines the best of dancing, acting and singing. It follows a young Billy Elliot, who’s signed up for boxing classes at the desire of his father. Yet, Billy secretly aspires to become a dancer. His passion comes to life in the show through performances in ballet, tap, modern, and tumbling, with an ensemble cast made up of heavy local showstoppers, like Jamey Stone, Beau Mumford, Debra Gillingham, JR Rodriguez, Jason Aycock and Kendra Goehring-Garrett.
Liam Redford is taking on the title character for the fifth time. In fact, on closing night, he will celebrate performing in his 100th production of “Billy Elliot.”
“The thing I love most about my character is his determination,” Redford says. “In the beginning of the show you meet Billy, and he kind of feels stuck. He is forced to go to boxing, which he doesn’t really like, and he doesn’t have that much else to do. When he discovers ballet, he is so in love and so driven that he works hard, while also keeping it from his family and friends.”
Dance provides Billy refuge from a rough patch in life. His mother is deceased, his grandmother has dementia, and his father and brother are always at each other’s throats. The emotional toll the young character faces can be tough to tackle for any actor. But becoming Billy means becoming all his parts, through pain and happiness, according to Redford.
“This show is really like an emotional roller coaster,” he admits. “It is difficult to show Billy’s anger towards his father and brother, yet still love them. His everlasting love for his mother and his best friend, Michael, is always present. He’s grateful to Mrs. Wilkinson, but he can’t show it. It is difficult to express every little thing he goes through, but I try my best.”
The cast has been tasked with performing with a Geordie accent, since the show takes place in a small coal-mining town in England in the ‘80s at the height of a strike. Yet, it’s as much about community bonds. Billy’s teacher Mrs. Wilkinson, played by Nancy Allen, is the one person who encourages Billy to follow his dreams, despite what others think.
“Mrs. Wilkinson is teaching me people can surprise you,” Allen says of her character, “that a little bit of effort and interest can change someone’s life—that art and beauty really do have value, even in, and perhaps more so, in some of the darkest places, and that even when your personal life is a mess, you can still invest in someone else to make a difference.”
Stephen Field leads the band on keyboard, including Greg Bel, Toree McLamb, Sheila Hardison, Casey Black, James Lane, Justin Lacy, Vince Bove and Mitch Hebert. The sounds run the gamut. “[Elton John] uses so many styles in this show,” Field says, “rock, boogie, classical hints, folk and disco. I love all the different colors the audience will get to experience with the music in this show. It is exciting, beautiful, strange and fun.”