When Billy Elliot the Musical made its Australian premiere in 2007, Justin Smith played the role of Billy’s older brother. More than a decade later, Justin Smith has joined the return season of Billy Elliot, but this time as Billy’s father!
Justin Smith had shared a dressing room with Richard Piper, who played Billy’s father, during the original season of Billy Elliot.
“We’ve since become very close friends,” said Smith.
Justin Smith recalls watching Piper’s performance.
“I used to watch him all the time and he was such a great Dad, so I’ve learnt from the best, let’s say!”
After more than 500 shows together, Justin Smith has great memories of watching Richard Piper’s portrayal, but also now brings his own interpretation to the role. Billy Elliot remains a career highlight for Justin Smith.
“I don’t want to choose favourites, but it really is one of my favourite things that I’ve ever been a part of. It’s such a great show. It’s such an unusual show, particular in music theatre land. The script could stand on its own if it was a straight play, if you know what I mean,” said Smith.
“The music is so great, the choreography is just so out of the box as well!”
Justin Smith has fond memories of watching the original choreographer, Peter Darling, working with the kids and constantly finding new ways to do things.
“He’d done the show in London, but he had no preconceptions. He was constantly improving his own work and pushing himself with the kids, and getting these kids to do such amazing things!”
In additional to classical ballet, the kids are also required to be able to tap dance and other unique styles.
“They also do this crazy physical language that he’s worked into the show and he did the same thing with Matilda, if you remember that.”
In addition to the incredible story and impressive dance routines is the music of Elton John – all set amongst a political backdrop.
“It really has so many elements that make it such an amazing show.”
More than a decade on, Billy Elliot remains just as exciting as it was back when it first opened, but is possibly now even more relevant.
“It might have had a touch of novelty back in 2007, but now it’s got this conversation we’re having around the world about being your authentic self, not fitting into gender norms and social constructs and that sort of stuff,” explained Smith.
Apart from reading and researching, Justin Smith prepared for his role as Billy’s father in the best way possible – being a dad to his own two boys! Justin Smith is the father of two sons, aged 12 and 10.
Justin Smith understands what it is to be a father who wants the best in the world for his kids, but has stepped into the world of his character who he regards as “a product of his time, a product of his environment and the culture he’s in at the time.” Billy’s family is under considerable emotional and financial stress.
“To put that aside and change yourself for the better of your child – I think that’s gonna be a really important thing to get across in the role,” said Smith.
Justin Smith feels it’s a little easier for boys to take up dancing these days, with a number of dance schools now offering boys only classes to encourage more boys to dance. In fact, one of Smith’s own sons has taken up dance, amongst a range of other activities.
“It doesn’t seem to be an issue that he’s interested in dance. He hasn’t seemed to cop any flack about it. But, having said that, I think we’re still stuck in the dark ages a bit in terms of what boys should be doing with their lives or their co-curricular activities. I think there’s a long conversation still to have,” said Smith.
“It’s such a great show. It’s an everyone show. There’s so much in it to touch on as a family, and to challenge the ideas we have about individuality and what are viable careers for people to explore. If I’d listened to everyone when I was growing up I wouldn’t be where I am today. Everyone’s got a story. Everyone can appreciate the journey he goes on, the trouble his family has had in accepting it and along with this new world we’re in.”
Justin Smith concluded it’s probably good timing that Billy Elliot has returned to give everyone a little reminder of the show’s powerful message of acceptance.
Billy Elliot The Musical is now playing at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne’s East End Theatre District
For more information: https://billyelliotthemusical.com.au/