Elton John says goodbye to BILLY ELLIOT in the West End

Last Saturday 9 April 2016, after 4,600 performances and prior to the theatres’ previously announced refurbishment programme, the final Victoria Palace Theatre performance of Billy Elliot The Musical took place in front of a packed house with guests including past and present Billy Elliots, original cast members and members of the show’s creative team. The over 1530 strong audience rose to their feet for the curtain call to join the Company in celebrating a very special evening and a phenomenal eleven year run in the West End. Director Stephen Daldry, writer Lee Hall and composer Elton John joined the company on stage accompanied by 32 past and present Billy Elliots (the most Billy Elliots to ever appear on stage together), 24 past Michaels and 18 past Debbies as well as several adult members of the original Company.

This fundraising performance in support of East Durham Trust, a charity based in Easington, Co. Durham, a former mining town and the setting for Billy Elliot’s iconic story East Durham Trust is the flagship voluntary and community sector organisation for the East Durham area, established to counteract the effects of social and economic deprivation through a range of practical, community based programmes. The Trust is also the community engagement partner in the Arts Council-supported ‘East Durham Creates’ initiative, working to increase arts engagement for local people with little or no access to artistic or cultural activities. All proceeds from tickets sold for the final performance will be donated to East Durham Trust along with donations made by audience members throughout the final week of performance.

In addition, the Easington Colliery Band, who earlier this week performed for guests arriving at the press night performance of Billy Elliot the Musical at the Sunderland Empire, took to the stage at the Victoria Palace Theatre to join the Company and the Billy Elliot The Musical band to play Once we were Kings, and Abide with Me in an arrangement created especially for the performance.

The first ever UK & Ireland tour – currently booking to May 2017 – opened in February at the Theatre Royal Plymouth and continues visiting Sunderland, Bradford, Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh, Bristol, Manchester, Southampton and Birmingham.

Acclaimed by audiences and critics alike, Billy Elliot the Musical has won more than 80 theatre awards and has now been seen by nearly 5.4 million people in London, while globally it has been seen by almost 11 million. Over the eleven year run in the West End, the Victoria Palace Theatre was home to 531 young performers including 42 Billys, 26 Michaels, 22 Debbies and 350 ballet girls. Actors ranging from ages 6 to 84 have tread the boards since the musical’s world premiere in March 2005. In total, world-wide, ninety four boys have played the iconic role on stage with the West End production welcoming its forty-second young boy last year.

Brought to life by the award-winning creative team behind the film including writer Lee Hall (book and lyrics), director Stephen Daldry and choreographer Peter Darling, joined by Elton John who composed the show’s score, Billy Elliot the Musical features scenic design by Ian MacNeil, the associate director is Julian Webber, costume design is by Nicky Gillibrand, lighting design by Rick Fisher and sound design by Paul Arditti. Musical supervision and orchestrations are by Martin Koch.

Based on the Oscar nominated film released in 2000 and set in a northern mining town against the background of the 1984/’85 miners’ strike, Billy’s journey takes him out of the boxing ring and into a ballet class where he discovers a passion for dance that inspires his family and whole community and changes his life forever.

Productions have previously been staged on Broadway, in Sydney, Melbourne, Chicago, Toronto, Seoul, the Netherlands and São Paulo, Brazil where the North American touring production finished its spectacular run. In 2017 the first Japanese language production will open at the Akasaka ACT Theater in Tokyo and a further Korean production will open at the D-Cube Arts Centre in Seoul. Additional international productions are also being planned.

Ruthie Henshall and Deka Walmsley led the adult cast in this final Victoria Palace Theatre performance as Mrs Wilkinson and Dad respectively. They were joined by Matthew Seadon-Young as Tony, Gillian Elisa as Grandma, Howard Crossley as George, Claudia Bradley as Dead Mum, Phil Snowden as Mr Braithwaite and James Butcher as Older Billy. Ensemble members were Craig Armstrong, Richard Ashton, James Ballanger, David Bardsley, Paul Basleigh, Rachel Bingham, Lucinda Collins, Peter Cork, Scott Cripps, Robbie Durham, Ross Finnie, Lee Hoy, Ruri James, Ben Redfern, Charlotte Riby, Mike Scott, Sharon Sexton, Wendy Somerville, Spencer Stafford, David Stoller and Kerry Washington.

Brodie Donougher (13 years old from Blackpool), Euan Garrett (12 years old from East Lothian, Scotland), Thomas Hazelby (11 years old from Doncaster) and Nat Sweeney (13 years old from Birmingham) were the final group of young performers who alternated the title role of Billy Elliot. Ben Robinson (10 years old from Chester), Nathan Jones (12 years old from Northumberland) and Bradley Mayfield (11 years old from South Yorkshire) played the role of Billy’s best friend Michael and Beatrice Bartley (11 years old from Durham), Hollie Jayne Creighton (11 years old from Sunderland) and Connie Fisher (11 years old from North Yorkshire) alternated the role of Debbie.

Photo credit: CRAIG SUGDEN