Elton John writes 'Billy Elliot' the musical because 'he's like me'

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Sir Elton John was so moved by the hit British film Billy Elliot that he agreed immediately to write the songs for the musical version which opens in London next year, he revealed yesterday.

Sir Elton John was so moved by the hit British film Billy Elliot that he agreed immediately to write the songs for the musical version which opens in London next year, he revealed yesterday.

Speaking at the official launch of the musical, Sir Elton said the theme of a father failing to understand the artistic aspirations of his son had mirrored his own upbringing. He was reduced to tears when he saw the first screening of the film at the Cannes festival four years ago.

The film and now the musical tell the story of how a miner is horrified when his son, Billy, takes up dancing. Gradually he comes round to help the talented youngster win a place at the Royal Ballet School.

Performing songs from the musical version for the first time, Sir Elton said the film had reminded him of his childhood. "I had a difficult relationship with my father when I was growing up which got sorted out in the end," he said.

But his partner, David Furnish, admitted the hurt went much deeper than Sir Elton acknowledged in public. The singer's father had been in the Army and strongly opposed him going into rock and roll.

"It wasn't the kind of thing that someone from his background was supposed to do. His dad was against him pursuing that kind of career," Mr Furnish said.

"Billy's dad eventually comes in and supports him in a way Elton's dad never really did. There was a lot of tension and a lot of friction [in Elton's family] and there's so much of that in Billy Elliot."

The £6m musical is to open in Newcastle this November before its West End premiere at the Victoria Palace Theatre next March. Booking lines for London are now open.

The show, which is being written by Lee Hall, the original screenplay writer, is sure to make stars of a string of teenagers who are set to follow Jamie Bell in the title role.

Stephen Daldry, who directed the film and will now direct the musical, said the hunt for young people able to do ballet, tap, modern dance, act and sing had thrown up an "extraordinary" array of talent.

Some were undoubtedly encouraged by the film, which has already prompted a surge of applications from boys to the Royal Ballet School.

The first boys in the running for West End stardom have been training for up to a year already at a specially created Billy Elliot Academy in Leeds, which is being funded by an anonymous donor and by the musical's producers, the Old Vic impresario, Sally Greene, and Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan of the film company Working Title.

Working Title has made 70 films including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones's Diary and Billy Elliot but this is its first musical.

Mr Fellner said yesterday: "Occasionally you come across a project you love regardless of its seeming lack of commercial opportunity. Billy Elliot is one such project."

Mr Hall looked close to disbelief when he recalled his childhood self sitting writing in his bedroom and listening to Elton John records. "The whole thing has come full circle and in a real sense is a dream come true," he said.

He had never expected to end up working on a musical when he started work on the film seven years ago.

"I thought I had written a very personal and peculiar piece about growing up in the North-east and about wanting to create art against all the expectations of my background," he said.

"I had the good sense to substitute dancing for writing otherwise I probably wouldn't be here today."

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