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SOARING WITH EMOTION: Why you should see Billy Elliot The Musical

The local production of Billy Elliot The Musical has officially opened for a three-week run at the Civic Theatre Newcastle.

It’s always an exciting time when The Very Popular Theatre Company opens a new show and you can feel the anticipation in the crowd taking their seats for opening night.

There’s also an air of expectation. The local theatre company has built a reputation for excellence when it comes to the staging of marquee musicals in Newcastle. Last year’s production of the jukebox musical, Jersey Boys was an absolute smash and broke all records for local productions at the city’s iconic theatre. 

It’s a legacy that the company should be very proud of but also presents a challenge for it to maintain and develop the reputation.

To help meet the challenge of staging such a demanding musical, The Very Popular Theatre Company has enlisted some absolute stars of the genre. 

Double Helpmann Nominee, Debora Krizak shines every time she hits the stage as Billy’s dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson. It’s a role the seasoned professional is very familiar with after performing the same part in a production on Gold Coast. Her vocal delivery, in some of the show’s biggest numbers, is flawless and she embodies every inch of the complex character. 

The show also employs the talents of Benjamin Obst, a plant-powered ballet dancer with a long list of credits including roles with The Australian Ballet. 

When Benjamin takes to the stage for the dance duet as an older Billy Elliot, it’s hard to take your eyes off him – even though the younger Billy is flying through the air at the same time. Benjamin is an amazing performer and the scene, one of the show’s most famous moments, is taken to new heights by his presence. 

But even with these “big names” on stage everyone, on opening night, has their eyes on up-and-coming triple threat Lewis Nicholson who is playing the part of the young Billy Elliot. The 12-year-old is sharing the role with 13-year-old Fergus Paterson each performing alternating shows throughout the season. 

It’s not an easy role to tackle. There’s the hardcore dancing, the accent, some pretty hefty dialogue and, of course, the singing.  Lewis seems to take it all in his stride and, for the most part, hits the mark every time he’s on stage. His biggest triumph however is that he is truly believable as Billy and the show benefits because of it. 

Charlie Murphy’s portrayal of Michael, Billy’s best friend, is also to be commended.  Charlie recently played Michael in a production of Mary Poppins on the West End in London, and his experience shows. 

Other notable performances include Marty Worrall’s take on George, Billy’s boxing coach. Marty’s vocal ability has seen him absolutely dominate every role he’s taken on in musical theatre, but tonight it’s his dialogue and comic timing that radiate. He is a truly underrated theatrical performer. And talking about timing – Felicity Biggins is whip-crackingly sharp at Billy’s grandma. 

The other star of the show is the set. The Very Popular Theatre Compay does set design better than anyone in town. They invest, and it shows. It’s used to great effect and plays an important role in many scenes, especially ones in Billy’s house.

As an ensemble, the cast excels in the show’s more earnest moments. The Christmas party at the opening of the second act and the return to work scene are highlights. On opening night, at times, there are some pitch and timing issues but it doesn’t detract. Especially when backed by the amazing band under the control of Dan Wilson. The band are truly one of the best things about the production and should be commended at every level.

There’s no doubt the staging of Billy Elliot The Musical is another well-deserved triumph for The Very Popular Theatre Company. While it’s not the company’s best outing to date, it is one hell of a night at the theatre. It will leave you feeling greater and more alive than you did when you walked in and, at the same time, remind you that live performance is powerful and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Billy Elliot The Musical plays at the Civic Theatre Newcastle until Saturday 21 October 2023. Visit civictheatrenewcastle.com.au for more information and tickets.