|Five boys playing the role of Billy in the upcoming musical "Billy Elliot" showcase "Electricity" during a press conference at a hotel in Seoul, Tuesday. From left are Eric Taylor, Sung Ji-hwan, Chun Woo-jin, Sim Hyun-seo and Kim Hyun-jun. / Courtesy of Seensee Company|
By Kwon Mee-yoo
"Billy Elliot" is about a boy from a mining community in North East England who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. A theatrical production of this modern-day fairytale resonated with over 11 million theatergoers around the globe since it premiered in London's West End in 2005.
The show makes a triumphant comeback after seven years and will raise its curtain at D-Cube Arts Center in southern Seoul with previews starting Nov. 28. This time, the musical has a different production company, Seensee Company.
Louise Withers, international executive producer of "Billy Elliot," welcomed Korea’s second production of the musical.
"Our mission to bring Billy back to Korea met Seensee's desire to bring this beautiful musical back. We couldn't be happier to be here and the standard of talent in Korea is absolutely world-class," Withers said during a press conference in Seoul Tuesday.
The movie-turned-musical premiered in Korea in 2010 to rave responses, and the five boys who played the titular role jointly won the Rookie of the Year at the Korea Musical Awards. Despite enthusiastic fandom here, the musical went into a long seven-year hiatus.
Korean producer Park Myung-sung said he is excited to stage “Billy” in Korea once again.
"Billy Elliot has everything ― it has a boy's passion who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer, love for family and solidarity in a community. I believe Billy will resonate with Korean audiences well," Park said.
Simon Pollard, associate director of "Billy Elliot" in Korea, said he is glad to be part of staging the show in Seoul.
"Billy Elliot tells a story of a boy who wants to be a dancer in a turbulent time in British history, set in the 1984 coal miners' strike. I am happy to work with actors of this caliber in Korea," Pollard said.
The five talented young actors who will play the lead role are Chun Woo-jin, Kim Hyun-jun, Sung Ji-hwan, Sim Hyun-seo and Eric Taylor. The boys started auditioning about a year and a half ago and went through hard training including vocal, ballet, tap dance, acrobatics and street dance to become the glistening miracle in a coal valley.
"It was my first-ever audition for a musical and I was excited and nervous at the same time,” Sim said. “As I became familiar with the other boys, the training got more interesting. We practiced about six hours a day, learning jazz dance, acrobatics, tap dance, vocal, street dance and many more.”
Kim said, "I was only able to dance street style before the audition, so ballet class was the most challenging for me."
Damian Jackson, the musical’s associate choreographer who auditioned and trained them, said, "The audition process is demanding for children. But they did so perfectly after only a few hours of rehearsal for this specific event. I am so proud of the five boys. Imagine how wonderful the boys will be when the show opens in the near future."
Training for "Billy Elliot" is not just challenging for the boys but for the adult cast as well.
Choi Jung-won, who plays Billy's ballet instructor Mrs. Wilkinson, said she cried while practicing tap dancing and skipping rope at the same time.
"I can tap dance and I can jump rope. But I couldn't skip rope while tap dancing. It was so frustrating," Choi said. "But suddenly, the moment came and I was able to skip rope and tap dance together!"
Choi is an established actress in Korea, known for her portrayal of Velma in "Chicago" and Donna in "Mamma Mia!"
"I first saw Billy in London in 2005 and I cried a lot. Playing Mrs. Wilkinson is a dream-come-true for me as well," Choi said.
Choi alternates Mrs. Wilkison with Kim Young-joo. Veteran actors Kim Ghab-soo and Choi Myung-kyung play Billy's dad, while Park Jung-ja and Hong Yun-hee play his grandmother.
The Korean production of “Billy Elliot” runs from Nov. 28 to May 7, 2018. Tickets cost 60,000 to 140,000 won. For more information, visit iseensee.com or call 02-577-1987.