Louisville, Ky. - Billy Elliot the Musical tells the great story of a young boy from a small English town who goes from boxing gloves to ballet shoes. Once Billy discovers he has a talent for dance, his pursuits inspire not only his family, but an entire town. Winner of 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Billy Elliot has been called "THE BEST SHOW YOU'LL EVER SEE" by the New York Post.
I recently had the chance to talk with Kathleen Hennessey (www.katHennessey.com) who plays Billy’s Mum in the Broadway Across America show coming to Louisville June 26- July 1. Here is what she had to say on the differences from the film to stage, Billy’s journey, and even a special surprise unique for the Louisville audience.
Q: What makes the play adaptation unique from this beloved film?
A: The audience will get a chance to see a different pace of the journey. In the movie, the story is must faster. On stage you see more of the journey. You also get to see his courage come through dance which is really beautiful.
Q: What is it like to put on a Broadway scale performance while traveling all over the US?
A: It’s challenging. We have an incredible system worked out and the crew and management really make it happen. They take 12 hours to load in, to completely install the set. They make it really easy for all the actors to show up and really just do our job. The set up for different shows happen remarkably quick and you just get used to adapting. When we arrive at a new city, the cast members will show up at 5:30 p.m. with a quick orientation on the way things are set up, then sound check, sing through, and a mark through certain things on stage. Then we are just shot right of a cannon into the show.
Q: As Billy’s mom, what kind of journey do you go through during the show?
A: It’s a really unique aspect. Technically I’m kind of a ghost or apparition, or even a figment of Billy’s imagination. It’s up to each person to decide what Billy’s mom is in the show. For me it’s really lovely because you’re coming into a story where Billy’s mom has been gone for a couple of years and the whole town has become submerged in the strike going on. There is a lot of anger and frustration going on in the town. It’s lovely to come in and be the lighter, sort of uplifting character that just kind of softens things for Billy.
Q: Being on the road constantly, how do you make time for yourself as a traveling actress?
A: My photography is what really keeps me sane and productive. In the touring life we don’t really have our normal day-to-day social life that we have when we’re at home. For me (photography) helps me not get totally lost in the theater world/acting world and I love it so much that it gives me the sanity and reality while still allowing me to use a different side of my artistic brain. I try and shoot as much as I can. I will even shoot pictures of the cast during rehearsals.
Q: Billy Elliot the Musical has won numerous Tony Awards, what makes this specific cast unique for this production?
A: When we arrive in Louisville we will be launching two new Billys, which is going to be very unique. It’s actually really a special thing to watch a young boy take his step on the stage as Billy for the first time. In the history of Billy Elliot we have had 19 Billys in the US production so far. Each Billy has such a short life cycle as Billy because unfortunately it’s such a tortured age to put a child on stage between the ages of 11-14. It will be very fun for the Louisville audience to watch these two new Billys take the stage and experience the joy of completing Billy’s story for the first time there. We are also unique because our cast has been together on the road for quite some time now so we are really bonded as a town, as our own little family unit on stage.
Q: This play is all about going against a social norm to fulfill a dream, what advice would you give all the other Billy Elliot’s out there?
A: If you have a passion or a drive for something just go for it. I think that aspect applies to not just kids, but adults too. I think sometimes we forget in life we don’t have to feel tied down and trapped in something if it’s not bringing us joy or passion in our lives. I think that’s something for even me as an adult I’ve even been given the chance to reinvent myself over and over again. I think that is something this story definitely gives truth to. We can rise above any challenge; we can pull together and support each other to do the kinds of things to live the life we want to live.
Billy Elliot the Musical runs at the Kentucky Center for the Arts June 26 through July 1. For more information on the show, just click here.