"Billy Elliot The Musical" Nov. 1-13 At The Fox
Kylend Hetherington, one of four Billys on tour with “Billy Elliot The Musical.” (click for larger version)
October 19, 2011"Go four times!" says Mary Giattino, enthusiastic associate choreographer for "Billy Elliot the Musical." Her goal is for audiences to see all four of the young Billys she helped train and rehearse. Each will alternate in the lead role in St. Louis concerts at the Fox Theater, Nov. 1-13.
The show couldn't come with higher praise: The New York Times says, "Sends audiences into a mass swoon!" Time magazine says, "Best Musical of the Decade." And 73 national and international awards can't be wrong, with 10 Broadway Tonys in 2009, including Best Musical, Director, Actor (the three boy leads), Choreographer, Book, Sets, Lighting and more.
In the number "Solidarity," choreographer Peter Darling takes a unique approach to the protesters' moves, letting their actions evolve into sports actions paired creatively with the dance. This near full-cast number, where working class Billy's dance gift is revealed, "will go down in history," said Giattino. The large cast features 20 child performers, often the first step on stage for a future Billy.
Lee Hall, who wrote the stage play and lyrics, also scripted the popular 2000 Academy Award-nominated film "Billy Elliot." Rock legend Sir Elton John was captivated by the film about a northern British boy who exits boxing when he discovers dance with a passion that inspires his family and community. Adding tension is a contrary miner father against the dark backdrop of the controversial political handling of his village's miners' strike (based on the 1984-85 miners strike in England).
Sir Elton, who saw his own roots in the storyline, immediately determined to take the story to the stage with his own music. One show hit, "Electricity," is a Billy solo that melds beautiful ballet with jazz and hip-hop. In another number, Billy is told he can't continue to dance, and in response, said Giattino, the performer throws intense emotion into extremely intricate and demanding tap dancing.
Dance solos for each Billy play on their individual strengths, but each performs ballet, tap, modern, jazz, hip-hop and acrobatics. Add acting, singing and mastering a Northern British accent. Stephen Daldry, the film's director who also staged the show, compared the over two hours on stage to performing Hamlet and running a marathon at the same time – at age 12.
The four Billys on tour, performing twice each week in St. Louis, are Ty Forhan, Ethan Fuller, Kylend Hetherington and J.P. Viernes.
"Each boy brings something so special, so different," said Giattino.
As a tap specialist she remembers working early on with Kylend Hetherington at "Billy Camp," watching him grow over the months and even years of training the company provides. When he auditioned, she saw his final call back pirouettes: "He brought his game, he nailed it, he was flying!"
She said the director and choreographer smiled at each other and said, "He's in!" That, she said, "was a proud teacher moment."
Over 2,000 boys auditioned for the 2009 Broadway show with 15 invited to New York for 10 days of intensive workshops. Since then, over 40 Billys have taken the stage world-wide. All train at Billy Camp for an average of two years for a shot at the lead role.
The average run for the chosen lead is nine months. Boys on the quest must be between ages 9 and 12, and no taller than 4-feet 10-inches tall, with a singing voice that hasn't changed yet. The boys grow so fast; the three Tony winners all grew six inches before turning over their roles to newcomers.
The endless quest is on for Billys to fill the Broadway cast, several national touring companies, and a multitude of international casts. Auditions are held nationwide with videos welcomed from those unable to travel. They want every prospective dance prodigy to have a fair shot. Boys with the passion, craft and determination to succeed can go to Bebilly.com for audition info.
The three original Billys, who jointly won the Best Actor in a Musical Tony Award, were David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish. At the end of their Tony acceptance speech, amid smiles and cheers, Kulish said: "We want to say to all the kids out there who might want to dance, 'Never give up.'"
Tickets for evening and matinee shows will be available at the Fox Theatre box office, online at metrotix.com, by phone at 534-1111 and at MetroTix outlets. Group discounts are available for groups of 15 or more by calling 535-2900.