Billy Elliot - The Musical has cancelled its first week of previews. Rather than 24 March 2005, the stage adaptation of the hit 2000 Brit flick will now begin performances at the West End’s Victoria Palace Theatre on 31 March. The press performance remains 11 May 2005, although the following night, 12 May, is now being called the show’s official ‘opening night’.

Although a week later than previously announced, the week’s delay accounts for only three performances as, in what is believed to be a first for the West End, the preview schedule was a staggered one, with performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays only until 30 April (See News, 17 Aug 2004). Three additional previews have now been scheduled for 14, 20 and 27 April.

Explaining the postponement, director Stephen Daldry said: "This is one of the most ambitious projects I have been involved with. The decision has been made to push back our preview performances in order to give our company, with a cast including 45 children, a little extra time so they are as fully prepared as possible. The young Billy Elliots in particular -James Lomas (15), George Maguire (14) and Liam Mower (12) - making their professional stage debuts in the West End will benefit from a little extra time to familiarise themselves with all aspects of the production."

In other Billy Elliot news, Ann Emery (from TV’s Rentaghost) has taken over from Anne Rogers as Billy’s Grandma. Rogers withdrew earlier this month when the role of Grandma was altered during rehearsals (See News, 7 Mar 2005). She’s joined in the cast by Haydn Gwynne as dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson and Tim Healy Billy’s father (See News, 20 Dec 2004).

The cast also features Joe Caffrey (Tony, Billy’s brother), Steve Elias (Mr Braithwaite, the Royal Ballet school pianist), Trevor Fox (George, the boxing coach) and Stephanie Putson (Billy’s deceased mother). As with the title role, teams of three child actors will rotate the parts of Mrs Wilkinson’s daughter, Debbie, and Billy’s best friend, Michael. They will be, as Debbie, Tyneside-born Havana Bailey, Emma Hudson and Lucy Stephenson; and, as Michael, Brad Kavanagh from Cumbria, Ashley Lloyd from Blackpool and Ryan Longbottom from Dewsbury.

Set against the North-eastern mining strikes of the 1980s, Billy Elliot recounts the tale of a motherless boy whose father wants him to learn to box. Instead, he discovers a love for ballet that leads him from secret lessons to a place at the Royal Ballet School.

Billy Elliot - The Musical reunites the creative team behind the award-winning film: director Daldry, writer Lee Hall and choreographer Peter Darling as well as producer Jon Finn. It features an original score by pop singer-songwriter Elton John, with lyrics by Hall. It's designed by Ian MacNeil, with costumes by Sue Blane and musical supervision by Martin Koch. It’s produced by Working Title and Old Vic Productions plc.

- by Terri Paddock