Having spent a day in hospital last week, the singer and Billy Elliot musical composer admitted that while he wasn’t supposed to be at the theatre that night, he simply “wasn’t going to miss this”.
Billy Elliot tells the story of a young boy’s struggle to realise his ambitions against the odds. Growing up in a Northern mining town during the miners’ strike of the 1980s, Billy Elliot discovers his passion for ballet much to the disappointment of his family. Adapted from the hit film of the same name, the musical premiered in 2005 at the Victoria Palace and has since been staged internationally, from Broadway to South Korea. It has also picked up an array of awards, including a clutch of Whatsonstage.com, Olivier and Tony Awards.
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Before the special performance, director Stephen Daldry took to the stage. “Although we’ve performed all over the world, London is very much our home,” he said, explaining how special it was to be back with the “extraordinary family” at the Victoria Palace.
The director, who is also working as the creative executive producer of the Olympic ceremonies alongside Danny Boyle, said the evening, held in the week leading up to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, was as much a celebration of the “Best of British” as it was of Billy Elliot, which is often credited as one of the best British musicals of modern times.
Daldry pointed out the various VIP guests in the audience, which included fellow creatives, writer and lyricist Lee Hall (who also wrote the original screenplay for the film), two of the three original Olivier and Whatsonstage.com Award-winning Billys Liam Mower and George Maguire, and original Mrs Wilkinson Haydn Gwynne, as well as an array of former and current Olympians: amongst them, gold medallists Dame Kelly Holmes and James Cracknell, Paralympic athlete Nikki Emerson, and members of the Olympic Ladies Hockey Team.
After the show, and an extended curtain call performance which included a specially choreographed number involving all five current Billys (Harrison Dowzell, Harris Beattie, Kaine Ward, Ryan Collinson and Adam Vesperman) and three current Michaels, Daldry rejoined the company on the stage along with Lee Hall and Elton John. Hall commented that “what makes me most proud (about the show) is that it’s about something important: ordinary people standing up to austerity imposed from above”. He noted that last year 50% of the energy in the UK came from coal – that now is shipped in from abroad because of mine closures at home. “Don’t let them do it to us again!” Hall implored.
- Stephanie Soh & Terri Paddock