Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Elton Announces New York Billy's
The three young men who will alternate as the stars of "Billy Elliot the Musical" were introduced Tuesday by the show's composer, Elton John, in the auditorium, appropriately enough, of New York's Professional Performing Arts High School.
"It's one of the greatest joys of my life," said the pop superstar, dressed in basic black and red eyeglasses, as he talked about the show and presented the boys who will be the backbone of the $18 million musical opening Nov. 13 at the Imperial Theatre. Preview performances begin Oct. 1.
The trio includes David Alvarez, 13, born in Montreal and now living in New York; 14-year-old Kiril Kulish of San Diego, and Trent Kowalik, 13, of Wantagh, N.Y., and already an alum of the show's London production.
"Billy Elliot" is based on the successful 2000 movie about a young boy who longs to dance but lives in the bleak coal-mining area of Northern England. His story is set against the backdrop of a bitter miners' strike.
John first saw the film at the Cannes Film Festival.
"I was completely wiped out," he said. "I had to be helped out sobbing from the screening because it mirrored, in a way, my personal journey and my professional journey ... my father really never approved of what I was going to do either. ... This journey of Billy's reminded me of what I went through."
Within the hour and at the urging of his partner, David Furnish,
John said he was talking about writing the music for a stage adaptation. It opened in London in 2005 to rave reviews and has been running there ever since.
Casting the New York Billys was an arduous process, taking more than a year with auditions being held all over the country.
But then, as Stephen Daldry, who directed both the film and the stage version, said: "It is the most unique and demanding role ever asked of a young performer in the history of musical theater. ... It's a little like asking a child to play Hamlet and run a marathon at the same time."
Daldry then proceeded to enumerate why:
The lad, who is never off stage during the nearly three-hour show, has to:
— be proficient at ballet enough to get into the Royal Ballet School.
— be a tap dancer good enough to impress Savion Glover and/or Tommy Tune.
— have extraordinary contemporary dance skills.
— be an extraordinary acrobat.
— have the skill to sing Elton John ballads.
— do the whole show in a very particular accent.
"And on top of all that, they need to have that ... difficult thing to define ... charisma, X-factor or whatever you want to call it ... that allows 1,500 people a night to cheer for this child," the director said. "It's an extraordinary mountain to climb."