As the Broadway production of Billy Elliot the Musical celebrates its 15 Tony Award nominations in New York (See News, 5 May 2009), the original West End production of the British screen-to-stage musical prepares to celebrate its fourth birthday next week – 12 May 2009 – at the Victoria Palace Theatre, where a new Billy joins the cast and booking has been extended by six months through to 3 April 2010.

The new Billy, 12-year-old Oliver Gardner from Bath, is the 32nd boy worldwide to play the title role made famous by Jamie Bell in the original 2000 film. Next month, several other child actors also join the company. Connor Doyle (12) from Walsall and Jake Pratt (12) originally from Scarborough, now living in Middlesex, will alternate in the role of Billy’s best friend Michael alongside George Maycock. And Francesca Mango (10) from Northumberland and Fleur Houdijk (11) from Hartlepool will play Debbie, alongside Annabelle Crosby-Stewart.

The other current Billys are: Tom Holland (12, from Kingston-upon-Thames), Tanner Pflueger (12, from Norfolk, Nebraska), Fox Jackson-Keen (13, from London) and Bradley Wilson (12, from Doncaster). The cast also features: Kate Graham (Mrs Wilkinson), Joe Caffrey (Dad), Craig Gallivan (Tony), Ann Emery (Grandma), Trevor Fox (George), Sean Kingsley (Mr Braithwaite), Stephanie Putson (Dead Mum) and Barnaby Meredith (Older Billy).

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

Billy Elliot has played to over 3.3 million people worldwide since it had its world premiere on 12 May 2005 at the Victoria Palace. The musical – which scooped Best Musical prizes in the Laurence Olivier, Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Whatsonstage.com Awards in the UK - opened last year in Australia and, in November, on Broadway premiere, where it was yesterday nominated for 15 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

The stage production reunites the creative team behind the 2000 film: director Stephen Daldry, writer Lee Hall and choreographer Peter Darling. It features an original score by pop singer-songwriter Elton John, with lyrics by Lee Hall.


In other musical casting news:

  • Out of London, Michael Praed (pictured) will play Captain von Trapp to Connie Fisher’s nun-turned-nanny Maria in the new national tour of The Sound of Music (See News, 26 Nov 2008), which kicks off on 26 July 2009 at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, where it runs until 29 August before continuing to Bradford (2 to 26 September) and Southampton (29 September to 24 October), with further dates to be announced. Best remembered from TV’s Robin of Sherwood and Dynasty, Praed’s West End musical credits include Aspects of Love, Contact and Beautiful and Damned.

    Also in the touring cast are Margaret Preece (reprising her West End performance as the Mother Abbess), Jacinta Mulcahy, Martin Callaghan, Claire Fishenden, Jeremy Taylor and, playing Maria at certain performances, Kirsty Malpass. This production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic, which finished its two-year West End run at the London Palladium this past February, is directed by Jeremy Sams and designed by Robert Jones, with choreography by Arlene Phillips.
  • And, back in the West End, the first set of real-life twins – Ben and Michael Sewell – have been cast to play the doomed Liverpudlian twins separated at birth in Willy Russell’s long-runner Blood Brothers at the Phoenix Theatre. Ben (who plays Mickey) and Michael (Eddie) graduated from the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts in 2007 and recently appeared together in Pilot Theatre’s tour of Lord of the Flies. In Blood Brothers, the Sewells star alongside X Factor finalist Niki Evans, who has just returned to the show and signed a new six-month. The production, directed by Bob Thomson and Bill Kenwright, is currently booking through to 28 November 2009.

- by Terri Paddock