How I Will Miss Billy Elliot the Musical

Billy-Elliot-Dean Charles Chapman LogoThe Italians refer to the suddenly love-struck as those hit by ‘the thunderbolt’ — colpo di fulmine. I think the same phenomenon can occur with art. Great music, a wonderful film, a painting, a story, can sometimes move a person to extraordinary emotional heights. I recall reading Bertrand Russell recount that when, in university, he first heard a friend recite Blake’s poem The Tyger, its emotional impact made him feel weak in the knees, and he nearly collapsed. Such was its power, the power of its beauty and truth, one could say. Perhaps it was also the power of its reflection of innocence. Revelations of innocence can induce overwhelming feelings.

When I first saw the film Billy Elliot, after its release about ten years ago, its story and its characters amounted to an emotional lightning strike on me. It was the most compelling examination of innocence that I had ever seen — Billy’s creative innocence struggling for expression in his profane world.  Here was a boy yearning to release, through dance, the soulfulness that he felt burning inside him, but frustrated in this ambition by the harshness of an environment and home life where soulfulness is hardly understood, let alone placed as priority.

Then when, in 2005, the wonders of the movie were translated to the West End London stage as Billy Elliot the Musical, winning record-breaking numbers of awards and astronomic critical praise, Billy’s story soared to its ultimate expression. I couldn’t wait for the show to come near to home, here in Canada. When I finally saw the production (several times, but never enough) during its Toronto run this year, I felt I had experienced something bewitching, the apogee of musical theatre, something that can affect an audience with supreme joy, and cathartic sorrow — both.

And although I sense that my personal love for the show has at least something to do with certain identifiers from my own boyhood, which I feel I share with the Billy story, I am hardly alone in fulsome praise. To date, there have been thousands of standing ovations from the millions who have seen Billy Elliot the Musical — even standing ovations throughout the performance.

But, alas, now that ‘our’ production has closed, all that is left for the Billy-bewitched in the Toronto area is to lament its passing, hoping only that, perhaps, one day I might make the trip to New York or London to see it there. For now, I can only think how I will miss this wonderful show, and wistfully conjure all its delicious scenes.

Credit: Photo by Chris Young

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How I will miss Billy Elliot the Musical, let me count the ways:

I’ll miss the opening scene, Billy’s soulful, reflective, ‘Take Me Up and Hold Me Gently,’ and sassy Michael tearing across the stage on his bike.    I’ll miss Mrs. Wilkinson’s exhortations to ‘Shine.’ I’ll miss the boxin’ and the dancin’ class.  I’ll miss ‘Grandma’s Song’ and the defiant ‘Solidarity’ chorus. And how terribly I’ll miss Michael’s ‘Expressing Yourself’ show-stopper — his wonderfully cheeky little face, looking every bit like the cat that swallowed the canary, lighting up the stage.

And ohh, ‘The Letter.’ I’ll miss the deep and delicious sentiment it makes you feel, even with the heartache.
I’ll miss the unrestrained joy of ‘Born to Boogie,’ and the heart-in-mouth business of Billy’s back-flip off the piano.
I’ll miss ‘The Angry Dance’ in all its righteous, innocent, poetic anger.
I’ll miss the hilarious ‘Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher;’ the poignant ‘Deep Into the Ground;’ the gorgeous ‘Dream Ballet.’
I’ll miss ‘He Could Be a Star’ with the touching anguish of Billy’s dad, and the miners’ sacrificial offerings.
I’ll miss ‘Electricity,’ of course, the amazing summation of his passion for dance, where Billy finds his words, beautifully expressing the inexpressible. I’ll miss the achingly wistful ‘Once We Were Kings.’ I’ll miss the happy-sadness of Billy’s leaving; the ‘Oy…Dancin’ boy!’ and the rending, compassionate farewell to Michael.

Ultimately, I’ll miss Billy Elliot The Musical because, for me, and, I suspect, thousands of others, it is the most perfect musical comedy/drama. Perfect, not only because of the brilliance of its dancing, its music, and its lyrics, but because it is about every facet of life, and love, and death, and loss, and the whole damn thing. It is about the anguish of growing up, facing conflicting values — those of your own heart, and those of the people you love. It is about the agony of a motherless child; the stress of pressures to conform; the deep bonds of childhood friendships, and their tragic, often inevitable terminations. It is about social injustice; the pride in work; the pride of community.
Most of all it is about one wonderful, charming boy, his powerful talent, his undaunted dream, and his ultimate victory over every obstacle to its realization. And it’s about how the love (often very tough love) of family and friends helped him overcome those obstacles and realize that victory.

I’ll miss Billy Elliot the Musical, because the stage production, which compelled me to multiple viewings, is now no longer in Toronto, no longer nearby. I’ll achingly miss Billy, Michael, and all the Everington gang, because they bewitched me with this magnificent work of art. Yes, art. It is musical theatre’s high art. It is a beautiful thing; and now that it is gone (for too long, I suspect, from our Toronto stages) it is, for me, almost too painfully beautiful to remember. Almost.

Guest article by L. G. Eaglesham

L. G. Eaglesham is an avid theatre-goer and freelance writer in Ontario Canada.

Editor’s Note: Though its Toronto production has closed, Billy Elliot the Musical continues to play at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London and in other locations around the world.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Great article! I have tried to explain why I love BETM so much to friends and perhaps to even fully understand it myself…but you’re right, it’s like being love-struck. I have been passionate about theater both as a performer and audience member my whole life but this is by far my favorite show ever! Did u get a chance to see Kylend Hetherington as Billy? He was beyond amazing. I’ve seen it 5x The US tour is coming to San Jose, Calif. next month and I have tickets to see it every day it’s in town. I am already mourning the day the US Tour closes… so I feel your pain and love your comment about a “mini-obsession” :).

  2. I recently made a weekend trip to Rochester N.Y. to see the BETM touring company production. I saw three weekend shows, with three different Billys — all wonderful. It was especially fun to see ‘our own’ Ty Forhan (from the Toronto area) as Billy. During Ty’s Saturday night performance (Dec. 3) I was even more weepy than usual at the end when Billy reads his ‘reply letter’ to his mother —Ty cried real tears and read the letter with a touching catch in his voice. Then there was the farewell scene with Michael, followed by the big cast finale. Again, at the very end when Billy came out for his solo curtain call, Ty burst into tears, but with a radiant smile, and the curtain came down with him and the full cast waving goodbye to the audience, Ty’s face shining with tears. It was an emotional thunderbolt. I was in the second row, no more than 15 feet from the stage front, so his reaction was very clear to me. I felt as if it was his last performance, and that was his ultimate emotional outpouring. I came away wondering how often, or if ever, he had reacted that way at the end. But I haven’t heard anyone else talk of seeing such an emotional reaction from Ty before.
    What a wonderful experience it was.

  3. You said what I could never put in words but is in my heart.   When I saw the movie and then the productions in Chicago (many many times) and NYC, it made emotions erupt in me and how I could see the struggles Billy had just like i did..    Thanks for saying whay I never could have put in words.

    • Cheers to you, from someone who understands completely. I think all of us who react passionately to BETM feel as Billy feels when he dances:
      ‘And then I feel a change/ Like a fire deep inside/ Something bursting me wide open/ Impossible to hide.’

  4. We all know we’re not alone in our love for this sparkling show. But, at least, speaking for myself, sometimes one can feel lonely when a strong passion (Mini-obsession?) for a thing is maybe not entirely shared by the people around you, the folks you love and who know you best.
    That’s why it’s a fine and comforting thing to see such similar feelings expressed by so many of you in cyber-space.
    Thanks for all the kind words about my article, and for all the shared sentiment about BETM.

  5. As someone who follows the show closely, including reading about everything that’s printed at Billy Elliot the Forum (and therefore see a lot of Billy Elliot fanatics’ comments), I think you’ve done an excellent job of describing what the pain is like for those who love the show and have had it taken away from them (including those in the closed productions of Australia, Korea, Chicago and Toronto).  It also goes a long way in describing why so many people have gone back to see the show countless times.  Well done, Lindsay and thanks for making such a great contribution to theskykid.com.

  6. Wonderful article with a  wonderful introduction – colpo di fulmine – yes the same thing can even occur to written articles .  I have seen the musicale only once in London and ever since I haven`t stopped planning a next trip to the capital of the UK – with one goal in mind – to see it again. 

  7. Wow. On March 1, at the official opening, when a CP24 interviewer asked what it was about the show that caused me to fall in love with it, I stumbled and had to draw on a line from the show: “I can’t really explain it. I haven’t got the words”. But with a bit of time to think and no microphone in front of my face, perhaps I could have come up with an adequate explanation as you have, so eloquently. One would think that the 66 times I saw the show in Toronto would be adequate, but if it were, I wouldn’t have planned 4 shows in New York in October, a trip to the Tour stop in Rochester in November and possibly London in May.

    But the cast in Toronto was very special. I hope a number of them continue somewhere. All we’ve heard so far is Myles and Jack going to Broadway.

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