Billy Elliot The Musical has returned Melbourne. This 10th anniversary Australian tour was announced in 2017 and has already played its Sydney season before opening in Melbourne on Saturday night. This production is a much better and more powerful than what I can recall of the 2007 season.
Maybe it is that so much has happened in social acceptance between now and then that when this show played the first time around it showcased a plea whereas now it showcases achievement without even changing the plot. Maybe the show is the same but the times have changed.
Billy Elliot is set in England during the 1984-85 Miners Strike, right at the peak of Thatcher. With that historical backdrop Billy Elliot The Musical tells the story of a working class boy who wants to be a ballet dancer but the townfolk consider that gay.
The original film released in 2000 featured relevant music from the era by T.Rex, The Clash and Paul Weller’s The Jam and The Style Council. The musical, which premiered in London in 2005, features original music by Elton John with lyrics by Lee Hall, who wrote the book and the screenplay.
Let’s be frank. This is not Sir Elton’s finest work. It is more often than not a struggle to absorb Elton without Bernie and this is one of those times. The musical did not produce any stand-out Elton hits, as he did achieve with ‘The Lion King’.
Because of Australian laws relating to employment of a minor, four boys share the lead role of Billy Elliot: Omar Abiad (12, from Brisbane), River Mardesic (11, from Melbourne), Wade Neilsen (13, from Newcastle) and Jamie Rogers (13, from Canberra).
For the opening night in Melbourne the role of Billy Elliot was played by RIVER MARDESIC, the role of Debbie, Mrs Wilkinson’s daughter, was played by ELLA TEBBUTT and the role of Michael, Billy’s best friend, was played by OSCAR MULCAHY.
Lisa Sontag, as Lisa Wilkinson, Billy’s dance instructor and Justin Smith as Billy’s father are central to the plot around the struggle between an outdated past trying to come to terms with the society of the future. At this point is time in the 80s, in many societies it was still a crime to be gay. It is incredible that in Australia in recent years we still had a homophobe Liberal Government arguing against the simply human right of equality. Worse still, they are still trying to derail human rights with their inhumane Religion Discrimination Bill. With what is happening in Australian society, Billy Elliot is a timely reminder of the imbalance even in today’s society.
Billy Elliot’s message of compassion is enhanced with the characters of Grandma, played by Vivien Davies and Billy’s late mother, played by Danielle Everett and balanced by the outside voice of reason George, played by veteran actor Robert Grubb. Aaron Smith’s older Billy gives us a glimpse into the future of how life for older Billy will turn out when compassion and understanding takes over.
I don’t recall the giant dancing dresses from the first time around. It comes at the start of Act 2 and is a fun, relief moment from what is a very series and important story.
Do see Billy Elliot in 2020. It may remind you of how we have moved on. It may remind of you those who still struggle. But rest assured, it will make you think.
Billy Elliot is playing at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre for a limited season.