Thursday, December 13, 2007

Billy Elliot Opens In Australia Tonight!

With a virtuoso solo ending in multiple pirouettes, a 13-year-old Newcastle boy yesterday showed why he is starring as Billy Elliot at the gala opening of the musical tonight in Sydney.

At a run-through at the Capitol Theatre of four showstopping numbers - featuring four different Billys - Rhys Kosakowski spun into a sequence of turns and gymnastic flips that would challenge a professional adult dancer.

Billy had just sung Electricity, expressing his feelings as he dances: "I suppose it's like forgetting, losing who you are; and at the same time something makes you whole."

Julian Webber, associate director of the musical, asked Rhys if he could reprise the number but he quietly shook his head, no. You can only do that kind of solo once a day.

Like all his fellow Billys, Rhys is not only a ballet dancer, a tap dancer, singer and actor, but also a performer strong enough to anchor a show that contrasts a brutal political tale of Thatcher's Britain with an intimate personal story about a boy who defies all odds, including his father's opposition, to win a place at the Royal Ballet School.

Just as the fictional Billy lives near Newcastle-upon-Tyne with his widowed, coalminer dad and grandmother, so does Rhys live in Newcastle, NSW, with his parents and grandmother. His father, Richard, drives a coal train.

Watching each of the Billys perform yesterday was David Furnish, an executive producer of the musical and Elton John's partner.

Furnish said John had wanted to write the score for the musical as the story had strong parallels with his own early life. His mother and grandmother supported his ambition to become a musician but his father opposed it.

For the Australian production of Billy Elliot (which premiered in London in May 2005), the director, Stephen Daldry, and his team beefed up two numbers, Angry Dance and Expressing Yourself. The latter was re-choreographed to "bring up the vaudeville element", according to Furnish, in contrast to the sentimental element (Billy talks to his dead mother) and political element (police viciously attack striking coalminers).

"The story is always about conflict," Furnish said. "Billy's journey is never straightforward".

One member of the creative team will be absent from tonight's opening and after-show party. Daldry left Sydney last week for Berlin, where he is filming an adaptation of Bernhard Schlink's novel, The Reader, with Nicole Kidman and Ralph Fiennes.

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