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.