Musical theatre fans witnessed a moment of Billy Elliot The Musical history yesterday afternoon when the hit show was broadcast to cinemas across the globe in a special performance that saw 25 Billy Elliots take to the stage in a special finale.
The performance was led by 11-year-old Elliott Hanna, the youngest performer ever to play the title role, alongside Liam Mower, one of the three Olivier Award-winning Billys to perform in the show’s premiere in 2005, who returned to the production for one night only as Older Billy.
As the scores of Billys past and present leapt, backflipped and pirouetted off-stage following the curtain call that featured a mash-up of songs from the show’s score – yes, we’re talking a combination of Electricity and Tchaikovsky – we snuck behind the curtain to talk to some of the cast about what it was like performing to cinema audiences worldwide.
“It was nerve-racking, exciting and brilliant,” Deka Walmsley, who plays Billy’s dad in the musical, told us on stage after the show. “It was brilliant to have that audience here in the theatre today but you cannot play this show to them, you have to play it to the camera and the cinema audience. We identified what worked and what didn’t. We tweaked it and hopefully it worked.”
The raucous standing ovation was a clear sign that it had. Walmsley’s co-star Ruthie Henshall, who plays Billy’s dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson, was bursting with pride as she watched her fellow cast members backstage between her own appearances. “I was so proud to be in it, proud of everybody’s performances. The cast blow me away, they really do.”
Billy Elliot The Musical, which is written by Lee Hall and features music by Elton John, will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2015, a concept that Hall finds difficult to comprehend. Talking to the press after the historic performance, the writer and lyricist explained that when he first came up with the story of Billy Elliot, which was an Oscar-nominated film before it became a hit on stage, “Everybody said this is absolutely nuts,” he recalled, “nobody wants to know about ballet or the miners’ strike.”
But clearly they do. Since then the musical has become a phenomenal success, winning multiple Olivier Awards, including the 2013 BBC Radio 2 Audience Award, and has now been seen by almost 10 million people worldwide.
With today’s news that further cinema screenings have been announced to take place in the UK and beyond, that figure rise is only going to rise. But for now, take a look at yesterday’s events in our gallery above and see how many Billy Elliots from the show’s nine-year run you can recognise in Craig Sugden and Adam Sorenson’s images.