It's no surprise that Billy Elliot has achieved a noteable following. It does, after all, have 10 Tony’s and has been hailed by critics as one of the best musicals of all time, but I had no idea just HOW profound an impact this performance had on theatre goers. Patrons taken with the production have gone multiple times, eager to compare and contrast their experiences based on the cast, especially "the Billy's". Because the song and dance numbers are so physically demanding, one ‘Billy’ will only perform twice a week and alternate with the four others, so some patrons simply want to have the chance to see all of them!
All of these boys are immensely gifted! They have to be in order to put on this kind of show. It is truly unlike anything I have ever seen. As I watched in awe while Billy strutted, danced, and back flipped across the stage, my mind wandered in wonder. I couldn’t fathom what their practices and rehearsals must be like. It is hard to imagine how much time, work and energy must go into each performance. Though these are characteristics of any successful production, very few shows star a 14 year old!
Of these tremendously hard working boys, we were fortunate enough to see J.P Viernes in the role of Billy Elliot. Inspired by his sister, this California native began his dance training at age 7 as a member of the Shely Pack Dancers. He later furthered his passion for dance studying at the City Ballet San Francisco for two years. At age 9 he received the title of Master Dance of California, a prestigious award given to 9-10 year olds throughout the state of California. From there, he began a long journey to the Broadway stage. In 2007 he auditioned for Billy Elliot in San Francisco and was asked to do a second audition in Los Angeles later that year. After not hearing back for over a year, in 2008 J.P got a call to audition in New York. Finally, in August 2009, Viernes landed the role of Billy in the Chicago production. After five weeks of intensive training in New York with the other Billys, the boys were given a hiatus for the holidays, and then it was back to Chicago for 12 hour day, 6 day a week rehearsals. On March 20, 2010, all of his efforts paid off when he performed at Billy Elliot’s preview debut. Viewers were floored by his stellar performance. Another ecstatic audience greeted Viernes in his first official show on April 15, 2010.
It was an honor and privilege to experience this performance. I was left absolutely breathless by the level of raw passion and dedication displayed by the actors, Billy in particular. By the end of the show, I couldn’t wait to get back home to tell my friends and family that this show is "out of this world". But there was more, my evening was about to get even better at the after party held at the lavish and luxurious theWit Hotel!
As many enthusiastic audience members and I trudged through torrential rain and whipping wind to the hotel lobby, we were rewarded by a welcoming display. Rich, velvety sofas and chairs furnished the lounge area while a live band played 80’s rock hits on the balcony above, the pouring rain a backdrop as it flowed steadily down the floor to ceiling windows. Everyone congregated at the bar and upstairs lounge, sipping cocktails and nibbling on delectable appetizers. The room was abuzz with talk of the show. Groups huddled around the bar laughing and talking about their favorite song and dance numbers. Just as I was leaving, I noticed a boy and his parents entering through the revolving doors. I knew right away it was J.P and his family! He darted up the stairs, eager I’m sure to get something to eat after a long and tiring show, so I unfortunately wasn’t able to tell him what a spectacular job I thought he did. However, I was lucky enough to catch the attention of his parents. These were two of the proudest people I have ever seen, as I showered their son with compliments, telling them that he is truly "something special", but they clearly knew that. They smiled ear to ear telling me that he is a very hard worker and just loves what he’s doing. Being able to tell them how much I loved it, and seeing their appreciation was the best part of my night!
Billy Elliot has such heart and power plus everything you could ever ask of a musical and much, much more! To see it is to love it, go see it.
Billy Elliot is currently playing through January 15 only at the Ford Center/Oriental Theatre. Individual tickets range in price from $30-$100. A select number of premium seats are also available. Tickets are available at Broadway in Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., and 18 W. Monroe St.); the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000; all Ticketmaster retail locations (including Hot Tix and select Carson Pirie Scott, Coconuts and fye stores); and online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com . Tickets are available for groups of 15 or more by calling (312) 977-1710.