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Bruno Tonioli and Carrie Ann Inaba
Photo credit: Chelsea Lauren


Anne Jeffreys and Ruta Lee
Photo credit: Chelsea Lauren


(From L-R) Zach Manske, Kylend Hetherington, Kuril Kulish, J.P. Viernes and Ty Forhan
Photo credit: Chelsea Lauren


Jo Anne Worley
Photo credit: Chelsea Lauren

 
ROSALIND MARMEL FROM L.A “BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL” BRINGS DREAMS TO LIFE

Rosalind Marmel in Los Angeles, April 17, 2012

Suspense leading to the Los Angeles premiere at Hollywood and Vine’s Pantages Theatre on April 12th of the ten time Tony award winning theatrical production of “Billy Elliot The Musical” was seductive and tantalizing. “Billy Elliot The Musical” has won 81 national and international awards to date including the 2009 Tony Award for Best Musical.

 The publicists for this Broadway/L.A. sensation at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles pulled out all stops as they teased us toward the night that we were all waiting for.
 
It was one shtick after another. What delighted me the most was the hype created on February 2, 2012 when the ingenious publicists threw a public party marked by several celebrations, declaring 2/2/2012 “Tutu Day.” (Tu-tu [too-too] n. A short, full skirt usually made of several layers of tarlatan or tulle, worn by ballerinas.”)
 
There was a Tutu Photo Contest on the Pantages’ official Facebook page,www.Facebook.com/PantagesHollywood  . They invited fans to upload photos of them selves wearing tutus. Votes were cast and the one who received the most votes won 2 free tickets to the first performance of “Billy Elliot the Musical”. Do check out the Facebook page. There is excitement there for everyone and all ages.
 
There was a “Wear a Tutu and Get a Free Pair of Tickets,” for the first 22 people in line at the box office wearing tutus. There was a Tutu Day 2 Fer-Deal with 2-for-1 tickets offered for sale.
 
Truthfully, I was afraid that April 12ths’ opening night would be anti climatic. No way!
 
“Billy Elliot The Musical” is proof that musical theater can stand-alone based on its merits even in the 21st century. This show thrills audiences of all ages with talent, songs, dancing and lyrics and a message that has had and will have relevance throughout the ages.
 
It does not rely on helicopters landing on the stage or massive chandeliers lowered from ceilings. The use of lighting is notable. The special effects are minimal. The acting dancing, songs and choreography and wondrously poised and talented children playing thought provoking parts will certainly remain in my mind forever.
 
  
At the 2011 Toronto opening of Billy Elliot, the illustrious Sir Elton John and his partner David Furnish, who grew up in Toronto talked with The Canadian Press. After they viewed, the hit film “Billy Elliot” at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000 Furnish conceived the idea for a stage musical. Furnish said that Sir Elton was in tears because the story so resembled his own personal life.
 
On Christmas Day of 2010, the couple became the parents of a baby boy. John composed the music for this ten time Tony Award winning show about an 11-year-old British boy whose father doesn’t understand his desire to become a ballet dancer.
 
The book and lyrics are by the film’s screenwriter Lee Hall. The choreography by Peter Darling could not be better. Stephen Daldry seamlessly directs.
 
The story is set in a small town in northern England, during the 1984 coal miners’ strike while Margaret Thatcher ruled. Billy’s mother had died. Rich Hebert plays his earthy dad. Billy is expected to become a coal miner like his brother, dad and granddad. The family scrapes together 50p per week for boxing classes for Billy. When left to give the hall keys to Mrs. Wilkinson, the dance teacher, Billy becomes fascinated with the music.
 
Secretly Billy joins the class unable to confide in anyone except for his cross-dressing friend Michael who listens while dressing in his sister’s clothes.
 
Michael casually explains that away, “Me dad does it all the time.”
 
Billy’s dad Jackie has a major fit when he finds out that Billy has been spending the 50p on ballet classes instead of boxing classes. Billy accepts Mrs. Wilkinson’s offer of free private lessons convincing him to audition for the Royal Ballet School.
 
The strike escalates unsuccessfully. Billy’s father unexpectedly discovers Billy expressing his deepest feelings through dance. He goes to meet with Mrs. Wilkinson. Despite conflicting emotions about the path that Billy has chosen Jackie decides that even if it means breaking the strike he will find a way to get Billy to the audition.
 
The song, “Solidarity” exemplifies the bond within the coal miners’ union and the community. They pitch in getting money together so that Jackie and Billy can get themselves to London to audition. It is unacceptable to accept money from a strikebreaker. Desperately they do. Billy and his father fight together so that Billy can follow his heart, pursuing the dreams that will change his life forever.
 
 
 
Sir Elton John told The Canadian Press, “We would never encourage our son to do anything he didn’t want to do. If he wants to do something totally alien to what I do, then fantastic!” The singer said he would encourage his son to do whatever he wants.

RED CARPET OPENING

At the red carpet opening, I met three mothers. The three are mothers of three of the young performers. Rosalie Znutas, whose zaida emigrated from Russia when he was four, is the mother of Danielle Znutas, one of the ballet girls. Kim Goldman’s daughter, Samantha Blaire Cutler plays the role of Billy’s friend, Debby. Lynne Barnes is the mother of Madison, another one of the ballet girls who has won many national and regional awards for singing and dancing.
 
The moms were there watching and snapping photos of stars including Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees. Actress, singer and humanitarian Connie Stevens, (who at one time dated Elvis Presley and was married to actors James Stacy and Eddie Fisher is the mother of Joely and Tricia Leigh Fisher) with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Toronto Italian Walk of Fame graced the red carpet. So did eight time Emmy Award winner Cloris Leachman, Jo Anne Worley, Melissa Manchester, Bruce Vilanch and Andie McDowell. “Dancing with the Stars” stars were cheered. The stars were there to watch the moms’ kids. The moms were there to watch the stars.
 
We talked. I asked them how they felt about their daughters being international touring celebrities while pre-teens and if they had concerns about fame at such early ages. I asked how their daughters felt about it.
 
The answers were unanimous. They and their daughters “know how lucky they are.” They had just arrived in California from Toronto where the show played. They loved the museums, the culture, and the Canadians they met. They are all part of one big Billy Elliot family acting as a support system for one another. “They know that when they are on stage that they are working. When they get off stage, they are kids again. They run, jump, and play. Our kids love what they are doing and are so happy to get to share this meaningful story with so many people across the continent.” They travel with two tutors, who teach all subjects to 20 plus kids. They take their schoolwork seriously. They love ice cream and ice cream sundaes. One young actor became a man when he turned 13 while touring and had his Bar Mitzvah.
 
They have their video games, their Frisbees, their toys and games, their snacks and favorite foods. In California, they want to go to the beach, to Disneyland and Universal Studios. They were looking at Connie Stevens standing next to her own star outside the Pantages on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame. Would they some day have their own star there? Would they be every day folk?
 
The mothers have concerns. They reminded me that all mothers have concerns and their concerns were no different. More than anything, they felt that their daughters were very privileged to be experiencing the things they have been experiencing. Maybe they will stay in the industry. Maybe they will not. Whatever they choose or wherever life takes them, their families will be supportive.
 
That was the theme of opening night in Los Angeles of “Billy Elliot the Musical” and is the theme of the musical.
 
I have never seen an audience, especially in Los Angeles, most of whom are in the entertainment industry so transfixed, so still and focused except during one “bravo” after another. There was not a moment of restlessness. I did not see even one person leave early. This 3-hour show must start on time. It did. Not one seat was vacant and everyone was full of anticipation. There were standing ovations and curtain calls. Everyone stayed. We wanted more and more. I know that many could relate to the story as well as to the lives the actors and dancers were living. We were all wondering what the future would bring for these gifted children. Every one I spoke with agreed that these kids would make their choices with odds of success well in their favor and that they will make the choices that are right for them.
 
Ontario’s, Ty Forhan, starred as the passionate, mentally and physically disciplined Billy Elliot that night. Cameron Clifford starred as his impish, cross-dressing best friend Michael. There are four Billys for each production. Billy is on stage acting, singing, and dancing during at least 90% of the 3-hour show. Each Billy does two shows a week. There are always at least two Billys in the theater…just in case one needs to step in.
 
In the original Broadway production, three youngsters alternated as Billy. They made history when the three shared the Tony Award for Leading Actor in a Musical.
 
I met only one person there that night able to fathom how Ty Forhan had the energy and skill to tap dance, do acrobatics, ballet dance, sing and act as masterfully as I have ever seen.
 
While chatting with the three moms, Ben Cook one of the most charismatic young men I have encountered came running up to us. He was wondering where one of his Billy Elliot friends was.
 
Ben happens to be a Billy in training. Ben garnered rave reviews playing the role of sidesplitting Michael. He has just recovered from an injury and will be opening as Billy Elliot on a yet to be announced date. He told me that he loves touring the world, meeting people, making them happy. He explained that the kids attend classes in a designated room from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Ben said they like the set schedule and that it makes it easier for them to sleep. He misses his family. They are constantly in touch. Ben and the moms thank heaven for modern technology with Skype, emailing, and texting that helps bridge the mileage gap. He also has performed on Broadway in “Ragtime”.
 
Ben says the audiences keep them exhilarated and going. When asked what advice he has for others, Ben answered, “don’t be afraid to express yourself. Be yourself and whoever you want to be regardless of obstacles that might stand in your way.”
 
“Billy Elliot the Musical” runs at the Pantages in L.A. through May 13th. Many of you reading this are in L.A. now. Many of you visit. Even if you do not think that musical theatre or dance is your thing I firmly believe that “Billy Elliot the Musical” will open doors that you will want left open.
 
For more information on the touring company, you can visit www.BillyElliotTour.com .
 
For tickets or more information about the Los Angeles engagement and for info about the upcoming season, visit the Pantages Theatre’s website, www.BroadwayLA.org .
 
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