Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Happy Birthday Billy!

Five Years... thats 60 months, 1826 days, 43824 hours or 2629440 minutes, it depends how you look at it. But regardless of how you see or interpret a moment in time, its fair to say that 5 years is a long time. It certainly is in London's West End, a place that sees few productions last more than 5 months, let alone 5 years, but... win over the audience's and it seems as though you can be there for good.

Last month Billy Elliot The Musical celebrated its 5th birthday, among a star studded audience, including the likes of Sir Elton John, David Walliams and of course me. At this stage I would like to clarify that the red carpet was in fact rolled out just for me, out of the kindness of my heart I allowed everyone else to use it! Please do not be under any illusion that it was there for the likes of B-list celebs such as Elton John... he knows he is below me in the celebrity listings. Its a sore subject for him... ok maybe not... well I can dream can't I? One day I tell you... one day... anyway moving on...

In a nut shell the show itself would be just like any other. Fronted by Tom Holland, who is now the longest serving current Billy, with the amazing Fox Jackson-Keen having left just days earlier. This of course was preceded with a speech by Elton John, Lee Hall and the shows director Stephen Daldry. Talking of the last five years, it really did sound a remarkable story that the show made it as big as it has. Whats more its popularity has strengthened with the productions opening on Broadway last year. Is there anything that will stand in the way of this show as it goes from strength to strength?

Though if I am honest, nobody was really there for the show tonight, well not as such. What was to be very special about this evening would be the finale, which would see 19 past, present and future Billy's perform together in a specially choreographed collaboration of dance. As the curtain at the Victoria Palace Theatre raises, applause and cheers fill the auditorium as each and every one of the 1500 strong audience are on their feet, christ the walls were shaking from the noise as the outline of three familiar figures stood before us. Re-united once more on stage, the three original London Billy's - Liam Mower, George McGuire and James Lomas were greeted with a well deserved standing ovation.

It doesn't sound like much, but the moment was really something special. For me there were some extra special strings attached, but we will talk of those another day. I was still in awe at seeing the three now grown up Billy's on stage as they burst into dance alongside the other 15 Billy's who had joined them on the night. It was hard to see who was who, as at almost any one moment there were three of four, sometimes more Billy's on stage. Most recognisable for me was Fox with one of his signature pieces of acrobatics and of course the unforgettable Liam Mower finishing the Billy section of the performance with some picture perfect turns, you truly had to see it to believe it, they were spectacular! Seriously I am no expert in ballet, but they were good, amazing in fact.

The billy section of the dance was brought to an end by 4 of the shows recent Michael's who took to the stage with a short tap routine. From a personal perspective it was great to see Connor Doyle back on stage who returns to the show in April to fill a gap in the cast until the new Michael arrives in May. Alongside Connor Doyle, George Maycock who left the show just days earlier, Connor Kelly who performed as Michael at the birthday show and Jake Pratt the remaining current Michael. As the tap routine continued, the four boys were re-joined by the Billy's who ensured the finale finished with a bang!

Wow... just wow... words at this point couldn't convey the energy and feeling in the auditorium. I don't think it would have mattered if you were a huge fan of the show or not, those three or four minutes were something really special. The atmosphere was electric, and that buzz went on into the night, as I set out on my quest to meet someone very special in my eyes. But that is for another blog. No really I will tell you who... just not yet...

So in summery... what a night. I don't even remember the show, just those five minutes at the end made it so worthwhile being there. But to see Fox, Liam and Connor, three of my very favorite actors all on one stage at the same time, well that is really something else, and has created a memory that will stick with me for a long time to come.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Two Hundred And One

If you are a regular reader of these blogs, you may have come across the name Fox Jackson-Keen, a talented young actor who has been nothing but an inspiration to me from the very first time I saw him perform. He is best known for playing the role of Billy in Billy Elliot the Musical. Well... as with all great actors there comes a time where they have to move on to pastures new, and sadly that time has come for Fox who gave his 201st and final performance as Billy on Saturday 27th March 2010.

So why 201 performances? surly finishing on 200 would have been a nice rounded figure? Well yes, indeed it would.... And no, its not how the cookie crumbled, there is a story behind all of this. It goes something along these lines... Once upon a time, long ago there was a young gentleman by the name of Leon Cooke, who if my memory serves me right was the 4th boy to play Billy. Leon loved to perform and held the record of the most performances which stood at 200 shows. Many Billy's fought the mighty Leon (Not to be mixed up with Kings of Leon who are awful) but failed, falling short of the golden 200 shows. What we need in this story now is a super hero to save the day... lets call him Fox! In giving his 201st performance as his final show in the role of Billy, Fox goes out with a bang setting a new record for the production, and everyone lives happily ever after! (Except maybe Leon, whos record has been broken... poor Leon!) Anyone think I should go into writing fairy tales instead of blogs?

Anyhow on a serious note, this was a record breaking evening for Fox, who delivered a fantastic show. Fox only has one standard of performance, and that is outstanding. I remember once seeing a show where he missed a flip in Electricity, he was mortified, so upset at himself. What he didn't realise however was that the rest of the show was above his already high standards, and from the perspective of a fan and theatre goer, the small slip didn't even notice. This does however show the perfectionist that Fox has become. Its not a bad thing either, its what has made him the best Billy of all time in many peoples opinions. This too is what always spurred me on. Seeing the commitment, dedication and self-belief Fox has, it really is something else! It is definitely more than I have seen from the vast majority of actors in the West End. They could all learn something from Fox thats for sure!

It goes without saying that tonight was no exception in Fox's high standards. "Angry Dance" was laced with teen angst and aggression. "Electricity" was packed out with stunning acrobatics and "The Letter" was emotionally fueled to the max. I could go as far as saying that this was one of my favorite shows to date. It was the first time I had seen Fox partner George Maycock as Michael, who incidentally was also performing his final show. There is a real chemistry between Fox and George, which shone through beautifully in "Expressing Yourself", and i think it was only when George tactfully added the line "Come on Billy! Its our last time doing this" during the energetic tap routine that it really sunk in.... two great performers were actually leaving the show I have come to love so much!

What is nice about final nights is that cast members arent afraid to make little alterations to the script much like George did in "Expressing Yourself", but for me what was possibly one of the sweetest moments I have ever seen in a live performance was delivered by Francesca Mango in the role of Debbie. Towards the end of the show, there is a scene where Billy returns to the dance school run by Mrs Wilkinson. All the ballet girls surround Billy wanting attention with the exception of Debbie. Mrs Wilkinson promptly sends the girls on a toilet break, which is the point where Debbie unsuccessfully attempts to go speak to Billy before being ushered off by her mum. Instead of the usual, response Francesca gave Fox a huge hug before scuttling off stage. It was so unbelievably sweet, but also goes to show what high regard Fox is held in by the cast who have worked with him over the last two years.

Its no surprise really that Fox is as loved as he is by fans and cast alike. Even if you take his immense ability to perform out of the equation, he is a really nice boy. I am quite shy and haven't spoken to him too much at all. In hindsight I wish I wasn't so shy around some people, because I would have loved to of chatted to him more. I would love to know where he draws his inspirations and what keeps him at the highest possible levels of perfection on a day to day basis. Though this aside, he has the time for everyone, and full credit must go to his family also who have allowed him to build up a strong rapport with his growing legions of fans. I know I wont be the only person to miss him, and there is a lot of weight on the shoulders of Rhys Yeomans, his replacement to fill Fox's shoes, I think we all wait with baited breath!

So whats next for Fox? Truthfully I think a return to normality for a little while is in order. Some rest and recuperation is well deserved. I sincerely hope that we haven't seen the last of him. Few people can make a lasting impression like he has on me. I know I am not alone in saying this either, it truly is the general consensus of many of the shows loyal fans. Later on this year I take to the stage myself in my first large (ish)production. I can comfortably say without Fox I wouldn't have found that fuel to propel me to this.

I look back at the first show where I saw Fox alongside Lewis Cope (an amazing guy... left the show a year ago and is still greatly missed!), that started a new chapter in my life. A new attitude, one that says I WILL make it... and when I do, I will owe much of it to Fox who kick started that new found level of confidence within me. So this said, I really hope Fox does make a return to the stage, but no matter what his choices in life turn out to be, he will always have my 100% belief and support, I really hope our paths cross again some day.

Until then I have the memories of a fantastic Billy and enough inspiration to last a life time.

G xxx