Tade Biesinger (Billy Elliot) photo by Alastair Muir
by Stuart Munro
These stories are utterly transformed for their new medium with compassion and care
The remarkable thing about both shows is that they manage, without question, to improve upon their source material, all while maintaining the integrity and spirit of the original and without simply copying and pasting what was on screen to what is now on stage. These stories are utterly transformed for their new medium with compassion and care, and both shows become much more than the simple sum of their parts.
What surprised me most about seeing Billy Elliot in London was how different it was from its North American counterpart. I’d known that certain changes to the book had been made in order to help explain some aspects of British political history as well as removing some specific British slang that would be incomprehensible to a North American audience. What I hadn’t expected were the structural changes to the show; not only was there a slightly different opening sequence, but there were differences in choreography, and even additional scenes not present in New York and Toronto. Anyone who knew these productions well (like me) would have noticed a handful of musical differences between them and the London cast album. But what’s preserved on the album is what is still being performed in London today. Most of these are minor and don’t affect the show very much. But there is one key moment in Act II which is quite different, and I find myself a bit surprised that this change made for New York wasn’t introduced into London, as I feel it tightens the show and heightens the emotion of the situation. Nonetheless, Billy Elliot remains a remarkably powerful experience and I was still weeping by the time the curtain came down at the end of the nearly three hours.