This weekend, the theatrical version of the smash-hit movie ‘Billy Elliot’ comes to Richmond’s Landmark Theater as ‘Billy Elliot: The Musical’. The ensemble cast will bring to life the story of a young boy who loves to dance, the struggles he faces with parents that just don’t understand, and the triumph of achieving your dreams – all to the Tony Award winning music of Elton John.
“Anybody can relate to this story – whether they want to be a dancer, or a doctor, everyone wants to reach for that goal that seems just unattainable.” said Chris Howard, one of the ensemble members for the nationally touring show. Howard, much like Billy, is living his performance dream.
Though Howard grew up a singer, he connects with the story of Billy as they both sought bigger dreams. “(Performing) was something I wanted to strive for, and there were people along the way who said ‘you weren’t good enough, you can’t do that, you’re not cut out for this.’” But unlike Billy, Howard had a support structure – family and friends who encouraged him along the way.
The original movie touched on Billy’s parents concerns with the young boys sexuality – a young boy dancing in a mining town is sure to raise eyebrows. Howard said the topic of sexuality is brought up in a few parts of the production. In one scene, when Billy’s friend comes out to him as gay, Billy embraces his friend instead of turning away. “It’s great to see Billy be so accepting of his best friend,” said Howard. “No matter what who he is – gay or not.”
The specifics of the production are vast – tap, ballet, and stage acting all play large roles. In one scene, Howard dances opposite Billy as Billy’s older self – this dream sequence is filled with fantastical lighting and fog to help set the mood, and it peaks with young billy flying around the stage. The mechanics of getting the young actor to fly were one of the biggest challenges for Howard. “It has so much to do with momentum and hitting marks,” said Howard. “Who’s used to flying someone around the stage?!”
While not revealing the ending, Howard said the melancholy final scenes are met with a massive final ensemble number. This is Howard’s favorite part of the play, “We all come back together and support Billy and it leaves people on a happier note.”