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Artfully curated by Culturadar


November 17, 2018


by Ann Greer

There’s ample action onstage in "Billy Elliot the Musical" at Signature Theatre. The production is filled with tap dancing, a soaring Billy, and a rollicking Christmas party, all wrapped around a heartwarming narrative. As there are so many young performers, I was curious about what takes place backstage.

Owen Tabaka (Billy Elliot)
Photo by Christopher Mueller

Elton John and Lee Hall adapted the 2000 British movie into a 2008 Tony-winning musical.  It’s the story of an 11-year-old boy living in England’s industrial north who falls in love with dancing, when he stumbles into a ballet class after his boxing class.  Billy (the marvelous Liam Redford on the evening I went), his family, and his community of coal mine workers out on strike literally and figuratively have a long road to travel to Billy’s successful ballet school audition in London.  But travel it they do.

Liam Redford (Billy Elliot)
Photo by Margot Schulman

Nineteen young people ranging in age from seven to 15 were cast in the show; in all but one role, they alternate performances.  Specifically, there are two Billys, one Michael, two Small Boys, two Tall Boys, and 12 Ballet Girls.  They are shepherded backstage by two Young Performer Supervisors, one of whom, Allison Poms, gave me an idea of what goes on behind the scenes.

Harrison Smith (Mr. Braithwaite), Olivia McMahon (Debbie Wilkinson), Dulcie Pham (Keeley Gibson), Simone Straub-Clark (Angela Robson), Owen Tabaka (Billy Elliot), Nancy Anderson (Mrs. Wilkinson), Maya Stumpf (Alison Summers), Molly Rose Meredith (Tracy Atkinson), and Anya Katherine Jones (Susan Parks)
Photo by Christopher Mueller

“The number one thing is to make sure the kids are safe.   It’s a big show and there’s a lot going on.  I see that they make their costume changes and entrances, and are not in the way moving scenery.  I do everything from making sure that the boys’ boxing gloves are on to helping braid the girls’ hair,” she says.

Poms, who is a stage manager and theater educator, says now that the show is open, it has a backstage rhythm and everyone knows the traffic pattern.  With no sound barrier between the stage and backstage, the kids have to be especially quiet.  There’s also the task of putting Billy in a harness, so that he can fly above the stage in a moving pas de deux with his older self.

“It’s always tricky to put a small person in a harness; we do a test run every performance during intermission,” Poms says.

Owen Tabaka (Billy Elliot)
Photo by Christopher Mueller

The girls in the cast are about the same age.  Most of them performed in “Annie” together, so they have bonded and help each other with hair and costumes.  The boys vary in age and are into their own things.  The two youngest, who alternate the role of Small Boy, did bond, and wondered during rehearsals why they couldn’t be onstage together.  Tall Boy and Small Boy, who don’t have an opportunity to dance much, have learned the choreography to “Shine,” danced by the Ballet Girls and Billy.  The two boys entertain their fellow actors by performing it in the green room, while waiting for their next entrance.


Liam Redford (Billy Elliot) and Jacob Thomas Anderson (Michael McCaffrey)
Photo by Margot Schulman

Poms says that two shows in one day with the same cast of young people may be a challenge, adding, “They’re going to be very sleepy.”

“Billy Elliot the Musical” is at Signature Theatre through January 6, 2019. For tickets, visit or call 703-820-9771.

Ann Greer has covered culture in the DC region for The Washington Post, Capitol File magazine, and WAMU-FM, among others.  She was the first online theater critic in the DC region, for AOL Digital City Washington.


Posted at 8:42 PM