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Challenges Ahead for ”Billy Elliot” Down Under
Posted by editor_usa

Thursday 12
October 2006 @ 17:02

She managed and marketed Mamma Mia for years, then flirted with the idea of bringing Spamalot or Wicked to Australia.

Instead, the Sydney producer Louise Withers has embarked on a bigger challenge: finding four Australian boys who can carry a show that must play for at least a year to break even.

Withers is the Australian executive producer for the musical Billy Elliot, scheduled to open at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney in January 2008, with an Australian cast, sets and costumes, and the hope that its appeal is all-encompassing.

She has no money in the venture herself and would not discuss costs, but it is understood the budget for Billy Elliot in Australia is $14 million.

Asked why the musical is coming to Australia before New York, Withers cites Australia’s cultural ties to Britain.

“There is a psyche in Australia that is very similar to the psyche of the piece,” she says.

But there is a more commercial reason: the musical was going to open in Toronto before New York, but it is understood the producers, and the director, Stephen Daldry, changed their minds when confronted with a choice of Toronto in winter or Sydney in summer. The Sydney season will give them a chance to adjust the show for a non-British audience before it goes to New York.

In The New York Post last month, Michael Riedel said the musical was moving to Broadway in the northern summer of 2008, with the British creative team – Daldry, and writers Lee Hall and Elton John – planning to tweak the show to make it more palatable to New York audiences who might find the northern England accents and political sentiments of the show hard to fathom.

In her pitch to the London producers, Withers emphasised Australia’s links to what many Australians once called “home” or the “mother country”.

Billy Elliot’s setting, place and time in history, the collieries of County Durham during the miners’ strike in Thatcher’s Britain of 1984, are closer to the history of Newcastle and Wollongong, NSW, than they are to New York state.

“We’re so English-based in many ways,” Withers says. “Yes, we’re multicultural but there’s a raft of people who came across from the UK in the ’60s and the [Billy Elliot] story is about a young boy battling many adversities to find his dream to dance.

“That’s a common thread in life across any country but certainly in Australia, the idea of battler winning through has been part of the Australian psyche This show has many themes. It’s about community, it’s about family And it’s about miners, a time and place in history, people standing up for their rights. All of these things are common in Australia.”