How does a working mom of three young kids – including a travel baseball player – find time to perform in a musical theatre production?
When the people, the songs, the story and the role are simply too great to refuse.
“Billy Elliot” won 10 Tony awards when it debuted on Broadway. Elton John wrote the breathtaking score. This is the first time it’s being performed by an Indiana theatre company. (!!!) The standing ovations on opening weekend showed us that the audience is feeling what those of us on stage are feeling – there is something very special about this production.
My wish today – that everyone with an appetite for a beautiful story and music will come see The Bobdirex theatre company production of “Billy Elliot,” running June 24-July 10 at Marian University Theatre. I am having an unforgettable experience working with this uber-talented cast and a dream creative team (Director Bob Harbin, Music Director Trevor Fanning and Choreographer Kenny Shepard).
As director Bob says, “This show is all about an incredible woman who finds a young man who has talent that she’s never seen before, and she tries to make his life special. I think that applies to all of us. I think we’ve all had a person who has lifted us and said, everything you want to do is possible, and I’m going to be the one to help you achieve that. And I think that’s what this is about and why it’s so meaningful.”
In my role as Billy’s late mother (known affectionately by the cast as “Dead Mum”) I appear to Billy several times throughout the show as a memory – and a force of love and guidance. The heartbreaking song I sing with Billy and his dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson, “The Letter,” is the reason I could not walk away from the chance to be a part of this show. It’s a challenge to contain the emotion and deliver the beautiful music. Every. Single. Time.
I asked (well, pestered) a few of my fellow cast members to answer a few questions about their characters, and what this show means to them. (Photos courtesy of Zach Rosing – thanks, Zach!)
Thomas Whitcomb (Billy Elliot):
Q: How do you describe your character?
A: Billy can just be considered a regular kid, but when set against the background of the miners’ strike of the 1980s in England, the world around him can get pretty serious. Billy has done something for most of his life where he just doesn’t fit in. When he finds someplace where he does fit in, it’s not something the people around him agree with. He becomes more confident as he does it more, and he gets support from his dance teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson.
Q: What do you love about this show?
A: I think the thing I love the most about the show is some people think it’s just a dance show, but really it’s an amazing show and an amazing dramatic show, and the dance is great as well. I love the fact that I’ve gotten to work with all these people who are so great to work with. I have learned so much from everybody.
Holly Stults Haas (Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy’s dance instructor)
Q: What have you discovered about your character?
A: She’s got a heart of gold but an exterior of steel. In this crazy town she has nowhere to be herself – her studio is the only place she can be authentic. But the minute she gets there, she has to close down.
Billy comes in and finally, after all these years, there is someone who gets it and gets her, and she can finally open up and give everything she’s been holding back. At the end, she knows that she can’t go with him, but seeing what she has given to him is enough.
Jack Ducat (Michael Caffrey, Billy’s friend)
Q: How do you describe Michael?
A: He’s one of those people who’s easygoing, outgoing, and he’s always trying to have fun and be himself. The one thing different about Michael is that he likes to wear women’s clothing, and nobody really knows except Billy.
Q: What have you enjoyed about this role?
A: It’s good for me to do this – I want to be an actor when I grow up, and I think it’s great to be able to learn how to act as somebody who isn’t anything like you, and be able to find stuff that IS like you.
Q: What do you like most about this show?
A: I love this show because it’s really serious, but it’s really lighthearted at the same time. It’s something everybody could see and connect to it in some way. I think the show’s message is follow your dreams, no matter what anyone says about you – follow your dreams and do what you want to do.
Miki Mathioudakis (Billy’s Grandma)
Q: What can you tell us about your character?
A: I’m Billy’s grandmother and I want him to have a good life because I’ve had a hard life. But the one good thing in my life was dancing with my husband.
Q: Why do you love this show?
A: It’s thought provoking. I think it’s life-affirming and encouraging. It’s a message that says you can go for your dreams, no matter what people say.
Bill Book (Jackie Elliot, Billy’s father)
Q: What can you tell us about Mr. Elliot?
A: He’s a coal miner, he’s always been a coal miner, he had a wife and he lost her. She was everything in his world, and now he’s bitter and depressed. He’s got a young son named Billy and he’s going to find out that Billy has a talent, and maybe he could be something other than a miner. Dad goes through a huge transformation.
Q: What do you like most about this show?
A: I love the story of hope in a desperate situation. I love the story of redemption, the story of growing up. And great music.
Tyler Ostrander (Tony Elliot, Billy’s brother)
Q: What defines your character?
A: Tony is Billy Elliot’s older brother, someone who represents the state of mind for the miners: battle-tested, worn and weary beyond his years, and immensely protective of the way of life that he knows.
Q: Why do you think people should see this show?
A: It’s a story of resilience: the miners doing their best to stand tall against the odds, and Billy doing the same – except against his own family.
These talented actors are just the tip of the iceberg. The “Billy Elliot” company also features a wicked ensemble of dancing miners and hilarious young ballerinas who are true triple-threats – watch closely to see how each of these actors carves out a unique character even without dialogue. I notice something different every night.
Bottom line: this show is something special, beautiful and relevant. This cast and creative team has “solidarity forever.” But we want you to see it and feel this for yourself.
A final word from director Bob Harbin: “You can rest assured, the show itself won 10 Tonys including Best Musical, but I think we also have some of the most talented actors in Indianapolis in this show, and that combination means you’re going to have an incredible night.”
MORE INFO: The Bobdirex theatre company production of “Billy Elliot,” running June 24-July 10 at Marian University Theatre, with all seats $25. Come see us.