Any child prodigies out there?

The hunt for a relay of boy stars for the new musical of Billy Elliot hots up
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The Independent Culture

With just a few weeks to go before Billy Elliot - The Musical opens, casting directors are already looking for their next child star. Some of the future stars of the show have been in training for almost a year, all hoping to capture the heart of the nation, à la Jamie Bell in the award-winning film. However, the current boys will be playing the role for only six months, and, once again, the arduous selection process is taking place across the country.

With just a few weeks to go before Billy Elliot - The Musical opens, casting directors are already looking for their next child star. Some of the future stars of the show have been in training for almost a year, all hoping to capture the heart of the nation, à la Jamie Bell in the award-winning film. However, the current boys will be playing the role for only six months, and, once again, the arduous selection process is taking place across the country.

"We are looking for a child with raw talent, so we are not going down the conventional route," says Jessica Ronane, the children's casting director. "If there's a child in the deepest, darkest beyond who can move, that is the child we want. If there's a dance school with a couple of boys who might be OK, but might not be interested, we'll go there. We have looked at karate clubs, breakdancers, skateboarders, everyone."

The role will, in fact, be played by a trio of Billys in rotation for a six-month slot, with each child colouring the role in his own way. Stephen Daldry and Peter Darling, the director and choreographer of the film, respectively, have been reunited for the project, and have been devising three different programmes to allow each boy to shine. "We always knew that we weren't going to find three boys with the same bag of tricks," admits Ronane.

But the team is not looking for just a prodigal singer and dancer - the child must be equipped with the mental tenacity to deal with one of the most demanding roles. "The biggest challenge for the Billys will be maintaining their endurance and health, night after night. They don't realise how much of a toll it will take on them."

Billy Elliot is, of course, the story of a boy who exchanges his boxing-gloves for ballet shoes, eventually winning the support of his family and a place at the Royal Ballet School. Ronane recognises that family support will also be instrumental in the success of the boys chosen for the musical adaptation. "It is a pressure and a loss for parents and siblings. We need to know that the family can handle that."

This is the first time that Ronane has cast a musical, and she is quickly learning that the job is fraught with difficulty: "During the months before the show, the Billys may grow, their voices may break, they may decide they don't want to do it." However, she has been in the dance business since the age of nine, and knows exactly what she is looking for: "The boys will need to have discipline. They will be living the lovely life, singing at the Royal Variety Show and partying with Elton John [who has written the music for the show]. But they're also being paid to do a job."

The first three boys to play the role are from Yorkshire, Humberside and Essex. But since the cancellation of the premiere in Newcastle, pressure has been mounting to make the next Billy a Geordie. "Our first port of call was Newcastle - but kids like this are gold dust," says Ronane.

'Billy Elliot - The Musical', Victoria Palace Theatre, London SW1 (0870 895 5577), from 24 March

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