Based on the film of the same name, Billy Elliot the Musical is a funny, gritty, heart-warming and feel-good celebration following the journey of a young boy raised in a small British mining town. Set against the backdrop of the 1984/’85 miners’ strike, Billy’s journey takes him out of the boxing ring and into a ballet class where he discovers a passion for dance that inspires his family, the whole community and changes his life forever.
Acclaimed by audiences and critics alike, it is the recipient of 85 awards internationally, including 10 Tony Awards, 5 Olivier Awards and 8 Helpmann Awards. The hugely successful West End musical premiered in Australia in 2007 as the first international production outside of the UK, prior to its Broadway premiere. With the first Australian tour concluding in Melbourne in 2009, this new 10th Anniversary Tour kicks off in 2019, ten years after the curtain came down in Australia.
Australian star of stage and screen, Justin Smith, who appeared in the original Australian production as Billy’s older brother Tony, has returned to the production 10 years on to continue the journey as Billy’s stoic father, Jackie. AussieTheatre’s Peter J Snee caught up with Justin between performances in Sydney to find out about his experience on this production.
How does it feel returning to the production after all this time?
“Like putting on an old shoe! I’ve such fond memories of the original production and to be honest, it’s probably my favourite thing I’ve ever done for many reasons. I genuinely believe that this show has all the ingredients of a perfect musical. It has so many different elements that all work together so well. If it was play, it would stand up on the story alone, but then we get to add the music and the dancing. That’s why I loved it then and I why love it now. ”
Billy Elliot the Musical premiered in London in 2005 and since then has been seen across five continents, winning numerous awards and millions of fans along the way. After winning five Olivier Awards including Best Actor in a Musical for the three Billys and Best Musical, the first international production opened in Sydney in 2007 which garnered eight Helpmann Awards including Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical for the four boys who shared the role of Billy in 2008.
“The staging of this production is more timely than ever” – Justin Said
“When Maggie Thatcher was in power, she was incredibly anti-community and was trying to breakdown the tight-knit communities all across England. This story shows the power of holding on and sticking together through the tough times. With politics the way that it is at the moment, I feel that we need to hang on to that sense of community even more.”
When I asked Justin about any challenges he’d faced undertaking this role, he said;
“I don’t like to think of them as challenges, rather a chart of the journey that hits people in the heart. This is a multi-layered show with some incredibly complex issues. As far as Dad goes, he has had an incredibly
tough life. He carries all the baggage of growing in the 40/50s and faces a terrible hardship. My ultimate goal is to make sure that he is believable and relatable in every performance. He is not dissimilar to my previous role [Tony] but he does have more complexity from the parental angle. Tony was fun to play because of his hot-headed nature but I think that Dad probably suits closer to where I am these days.
Having been on the journey with Billy from multiple angles, Justin has this advice for any aspiring performer;
“The show is about individuality and expressing yourself and I think it is very important to stay true to that. Just go for it, surround yourself with people that believe in you and go for it. If you don’t have those people in your life at the moment, search for them because they are out there.”
Billy Elliot the Musical is now in season and playing into 2020.
Sydney Lyric Theatre until December 15 2019
Adelaide Festival Theatre from December 29 2019
Melbourne Regent Theatre from February 20 2020
For more information or tickets, visit www.billyelliotthemusical.com.au