Billy Elliot the Musical: an enchanting celebration of the heartEntertainment Feature Thursday, April 25th, 2013
Billy Elliot the Musical opened on Broadway in November of 2008 and closed in January of 2012, but originally premiered in London in 2005 and is still running today.
The musical, based on the 2000 film of the same name, shares many of the same creative team that made the 2000 film such a big hit. Both the film and the musical were directed by Stephen Daldry (The Hours, The Reader), choreographed by Peter Darling and written by Lee Hall (War Horse). All three won Tony Awards in 2009 for their work. The only creative addition to the musical was pop icon and Tony Award winner Elton John (Lion King, Aida) who wrote the music.
This coming week the Broadway National Tour of Billy Elliot bursts into town for one week only. With all of its accolades and awards, it’s safe to say this show will probably sell out and that’s easy to understand given its moving story of a motherless 11-year-old boy who, after discovering his love of dancing, fights to do what he loves … dance.
Both his father and brother are out of work due to a union strike, and are at odds with riot police. The fact that Billy wants to dance is not something that is looked upon as acceptable by either of them, so he hides it, until his teacher recognizes his talents and sees how much he loves it.
The tour, like the Broadway show, has three boys playing the demanding role of Billy. Ben Cook, already a Broadway veteran, was also in the Broadway version and will be playing the part of Billy here in San Diego. His path to performing was somewhat similar to the part of Billy.
“My sisters (Emma and Kate) both drew me to performing,” Cook said. “They were both dancers and inspired me to take up dance. I started out with tap and didn’t really like it at first but when I moved into jazz, contemporary and ballet I ended up falling in love with it.”
Cook was already familiar with the movie thanks to his parents who felt it was an important film for him to see.
“I did see the film before I heard about the musical,” Cook admitted. “I watched it with my parents because they thought it would be a good movie for me to see as a boy dancer. I loved the movie then found out about the musical afterwards and I knew that show was something I really wanted to do.”
Cook’s acting experiences include being a part of the original cast of the award-winning musical Ragtime, and he was also seen on the Emmy-winning sitcom 30 Rock, playing the younger version of Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin’s character).
“I did Ragtime at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. before it went to Broadway,” Cook said. “It was just so much fun. The whole cast got along so well and we all ended up becoming a big family, it was definitely an experience I will never forget. It was great! [30 Rock] was very different from the theater-type of experience I’m used to, but it was so much fun! I got to see the studio, Tracey Morgan and how they set up the show; it was really cool.”
The role of Billy’s angry and volatile brother Tony is being played by, Cullen R. Titmas, who is a Broadway veteran as well. While he has enjoyed being a part of Broadway hits like Avenue Q and Billy Elliot and loves the theater, he also says he doesn’t know where that desire came from.
“I have no idea where I got the passion to do what I do,” Titmas admits. “My parents have always been ultra supportive of me but neither knew a thing about the biz nor even being a biz parent. They have always however encouraged me to be who I want to be. My grandmother’s brothers were both multi-instrumentalists, but other than that, I’d say my dad is a pretty good whistler …”
Titmas has the distinction of being a key part of the process that brought Disney’s Finding Nemo to the stage at Disney Florida. It was a process Titmas enjoyed very much.
“The Disney gig was a wonderful experience,” Titmas said. “Creating the show from the first movement is an actor’s dream! The story lends itself to amazing relationships, so we were able to make some amazing moments happen with the puppets and our connection to them. The creative team was genius.”
Titmas, like Cook had also seen the film prior to playing the part of the brother Tony, but had only seen it a few times.
“I had seen the movie once or twice before,” Titmas confided. “It is a beautiful film. Tony is an angry and sometimes childish guy, but he really cares for his family and the outcome of their lives. His struggle is great to play on stage. I love being able to act more in this show, but my strength is singing. I love singing jazz and blues material, and sometimes I just wanna be in a choir somewhere. I miss it.”
Titmas also admits that while many of his past roles were closer to whom he is as a person, this part definitely has more of a darker side. “I suppose I’m really young at heart so those roles fit me very well,” Titmas said. “I’m pretty silly most of the time, although my current cast probably sees me as much darker. I’m getting older now, but I hope my childish nature will override crankiness!”
San Diego audiences may remember Titmas for his stint as Trekky Monster in the award-winning musical Avenue Q that played at the Spreckles Theatre downtown. Although that wasn’t his first time here.
“I love San Diego,” Titmas exclaimed. “I played the Spreckles with Avenue Q in ’07 for six weeks and I also went on a trip there in 7th grade with my best pal. He lives in PB now with his family. I’ve visited him there a few times, along with another friend who used to be in the biz and is now a doctor! So I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and enjoying that perfect weather.”
Craig Bennett (South Pacific, Miss Saigon) is a Broadway veteran as well and plays a few roles in the show, but covers and has performed the role of Billy’s father.
Bennett, a father himself, says being a father enhances his connection to the character of the father in the show.
“Having a son about Billy’s age can only enhance my connection to the dad character,” Bennett said. “The initial, unsupportive side of [the] dad is a challenge. I think these days most parents realize that being supportive of your kids, especially at a young age, is essential to their development. So, being convincingly unsupportive, without just being angry and yelling, is the task as an actor.”
Bennett also feels pretty strongly about what it is about the show that audiences connect with.
“Everyone loves the underdog and Billy is the ultimate,” Bennett said. “He’s got so much going against him and yet still manages to pursue what makes him happy. The more difficult the path, the more we root for success.”
Billy Elliot the Musical runs from April 30- May 5, at Broadway San Diego located downtown at 1100 Third Street. For tickets call 619-564-3003, or purchase online at broadwaysd.com/billyelliot.php
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