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Chicago by John Olson

Director Stephen Daldry Introduces
Three Billy Elliots to Chicago

Also see John's reviews of Some Enchanted Evening and Beethoven As I Knew Him at Ravinia

Billy Elliot
Tommy Bachelor, Giuseppe Bausilio
and Cesar Corrales

At an afternoon press conference and preview for group sales buyers held at Walter Payton High School on September 10th, Broadway in Chicago brought in director Stephen Daldry to introduce the three actors who will alternate in the title role of Billy Elliot: The Musical when the it opens its national tour at Chicago's Oriental Theater next March. The veteran among the group will be 14-year-old Tommy Batchelor, the original understudy to the three actors who shared a Tony Award for their performances in the role, and who now is in the regular rotation in the role on Broadway. Following a brief video detailing the audition process for Chicago's Billys (available on YouTube), Batchelor sang "Electricity" for the audience.

Joining Batchelor in the role of the boy from a mining town in northern England who pursues a career in ballet will be Giuseppe Bausilio and Cesar Corrales. Bausilio is a resident of Switzerland of Italian and Brazilian heritage who has performed in operas at the State Theatre of Bern. He assured the audience that as clean as are the cities in Switzerland, that Chicago is even cleaner. (Did you hear that, Olympic Site Selection Committee?). Daldry told the audience Bausilio raised money via a bake sale to fund his trip to New York to audition for the part. Corrales, who has not yet seen a performance of Billy Elliot, was born in Mexico before moving to Montreal with his family. He performed with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet at age 4 and currently attends Canada's National Ballet School in Toronto.

I was able to speak with Daldry briefly after the conference and asked him to comment on the transition of Billy Elliot from screen to stage. The director, who's earned Oscar nominations for directing each of his three feature films to date, said "we didn't want to do it as a musical unless we could make it better than it was as a film. I think the musical is better. We do a better job of telling the story of the community and using dance as a metaphor."  I asked if he agrees there's a difference in tone between the two—is the musical happier and less gritty than the film. "I think the musical is grittier," he answered. "There's more emphasis on the townspeople and the politics are clearer."  He admits that some of the show's exuberance is due to the nature of the musical theater form, but that they primarily wanted to communicate the joy Billy finds in dance.

Giving Daldry a little insight into the world of Talkin' Broadway and All That Chat, I noted that the decision to end the musical's story before the film's coda—in which an adult Billy is seen dancing professionally in London—provoked much discussion on the board and at our annual party in June. Daldry explained the show's creative team felt it would have been too jarring for audiences to see a different, adult actor as Billy at the end of the show; that it would be more satisfying for them to stay with the Billy they follow throughout the show. Additionally, Daldry said, the musical's final scenes—in which his father and brother descend into the mine along with the other miners and Billy says goodbye to Michael, leaving his friend alone on stage—more clearly show "the sadness of Billy's loss on leaving his town and his friend."

Daldry assured me the show had not been altered to suit American audiences. "There were changes, but not because of differences in the audiences. They were just things I felt I could do better." Even after some ten years of living with Billy Elliot on film and stage, he appears to be quite engaged in the production, taking time away from directing another revival of An Inspector Calls (for which he won his fist Tony in 1994) in London and a film project to cast and supervise the Chicago Billy Elliot. His presence in Chicago and evident rapport with the three actors chosen to alternate as Billy suggest his directorial hand will be firmly on the Chicago production, which will begin an "extended run" on March 18, 2010 before beginning a multi-city national tour.

Group sales to Billy Elliot the musical are currently on sale to groups of 15 or more through Broadway in Chicago Group Sales. Season ticket packages, including Billy Elliot, will go on sale Sunday, September 13 at 10 a.m. Single tickets will go on sale to the general public in November, 2009. For more information, visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.


Photo: Amy Boyle

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Chicago area


-- John Olson



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