EXCLUSIVE: Eric Fellner, Working Title co-chairman, and the creators of the hit Billy Elliot musical, have given their support to a non-replica production that will run at UK regional theatre, The Curve, Leicester, from July 7.
The Curve’s artistic chief Nikolai Foster, who’s also directing the update with Lucy Hind choreographing, met in recent days with Fellner and Stephen Daldry, the original director of the stage show and the popular 2000 film version that starred Jamie Bell in the titular role, for a metaphorical passing of the baton.
“The whole point is that Nikolai and the Curve wanted to do their own production,” Fellner told Deadline, adding that original creatives Lee Hall (book and lyrics), Elton John (music) and Peter Darling (choreography) “were all comfortable with them doing that.”
Fellner continued: “Within the contract there are certain things they can or can’t do like not changing the lyrics and the book, but in terms of staging, choreography and production design it’s entirely their call.
“We’ve given our blessing on a carte blanche basis where whatever they’re doing we wish them well,” Fellner added.
The show, set during the UK miner’s strike in the mid 1980s, is about a motherless boy from a working class background in the northeast of England who wants to be a ballet dancer, still resonates.
The show won best musical prizes at the Tony awards and the Olivier awards. The movie version (which wasn’t a traditional musical) was a box office sensation and scored three Oscar nominations.
The forthcoming Curve production has created much excitement. Hundreds of youngsters auditioned for the key roles of Billy, his friend Michael, and Debbie, daughter of ballet school teacher Mrs Wilkinson – West End and Broadway stalwart Sally Ann Triplett will play her. Above and embedded are behind-the-scenes first look images from the production.
Foster chose four young lads to share the role of Billy: Leo Hollingsworth and Alfie Napolitano both from Nottinghamshire; Samuel Newby from Hertfordshire and Jayden Shentall-Lee who hails from Leicestershire. “Many of them are making their debuts,” said Foster.
Worth noting that the long list of actors who played Billy at the Victoria Palace, London, during its ten-year run included Spider-Man star Tom Holland. David Alvarez, who played Bernardo in Steven Spielberg’s film version of West Side Story, was an original Billy when Billy Elliot opened at the Imperial Theater on Broadway.
Michael, Billy’s best pal, will be performed by Bobby Donald, Lucas Haywood, Ethan Shimwell and Prem Masani. Pearl Ball, Caitlin Cole, Lola Johnstone and Ellie Copping will share the role of Debbie.
Foster and his team have gathered a full cast of 55 for rehearsals; the 35 younger actors have also been attending boot camp for lessons in ballet, tap, gymnastics and boxing. He stressed that “boys and girls are taking part in the boxing workshops.”
The Curve exec said that his cast and creative team will be “exploiting our stage and exploiting our infrastructure” with miners and police running through the Curve’s foyer and onto the stage. “The chaos will be marvellous,” Foster marvelled.
The Curve has licensed the secondary rights through Music Theatre International.
There will be interest in the show far beyond Leicester to see whether or not it might tour, and perhaps then head into the West End. And, who knows, perhaps back to Broadway.
Fellner and Foster declined to comment on that potentiality. “I’m concentrating on putting Billy Elliot on at the Curve,” Foster stated.
However, Deadline did ask Fellner about the idea, initially raised by Elton John, Fellner and executives at Universal Pictures, about the possibility of doing a film version of the musical.
Fellner waited a beat then confirmed that the film musical, “Is still just an idea that we sometimes talk about. Let’s see,” he said tantalisingly.
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