Star of 'Billy Elliot' bows out after his voice breaks

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The Independent Online

For most adolescent boys, involuntary warbling is one of the symptoms of the unnerving process of puberty. But if you are a child star the consequences of your voice breaking can be catastrophic for your career.

That is why Liam Mower, otherwise known as the original Billy Elliot, will take his final curtain call tonight and leave the London stage production of the musical at the ripe age of 14.

Mower was one of three pre-teens to have been simultaneously cast in the lead role after several thousand auditioned before the show opened at the Victoria Palace Theatre in May last year.

James Lomas and George Maguire have already departed having succumbed to the croaky voice and now Mower is to return to studying for his GCSEs in his native Hull.

"My voice is changing all the time and getting deeper," said Mower yesterday. "It's difficult as a 14-year-old to play a 12-year-old. It's ridiculous the way I have to make the effort to get my voice up high. They had to move the score down for two of the songs but I still found them high, although it's no problem for the rest of the cast.

"They did the same for George and James. It's fine at the moment but I don't want to do it again. It's hard at my age because they either want a 12-year-old boy or a 16-year-old man."

Billy Elliot the Musical, the stage version of the 2000 film, is directed by the film's director Stephen Daldry with the music composed by Sir Elton John. It is expected to have its Broadway debut at the Imperial Theatre in summer 2008. The show has won four Laurence Olivier Awards and Mower became the youngest to win best actor when the award was given to the trio of "Billys".

Mower is too young to remember arguably the most famous recent example of puberty interfering with a boy singer's career, in the case of the Welsh soprano Aled Jones. Mower says he is prepared to bide his time in non-singing roles for the time being.

After the limelight of Billy Elliot, in which he has performed in front of one million people including the Queen, he has landed a minor part in the romantic comedy, Thoroughly Modern Millie, at the Hull New Theatre next month.

It will mean the end of routine which has seem him live with the two other stars in a shared house in Ealing, taking school lessons and doing rehearsals in an army barracks in Hammersmith. He said: "I think it's time to move on. I got a full run and now it's time to go to school to do my GCSEs. It's been really fun and I've enjoyed every single minute of it." His ultimate ambition is to become "a male version of Catherine Zeta-Jones".

Demand for tickets to see Mower's last performance was intense yesterday, with fans preparing to sleep on the pavement overnight for a final glimpse. Alan Gaitley, who runs an internet fan site and has seen the show 159 times, said: "Liam has an international fan base and there will be fans flying in to see his final show from Japan, Germany, France, Holland, New Zealand and the United States."

Is there life after child singer stardom?

Neil Reid

"Wee Neil Reid" was eight when he was discovered singing at a pensioners' party in 1968. After winning the television talent show Opportunity Knocks, his single "Mother of Mine" reached number two in the UK charts in 1971. Success was short-lived: three months later, his follow-up, "That's What I want to Be", peaked at number 45.

Jimmy Osmond

The youngest of the many Osmond siblings and occasional member of The Osmonds group is best known for his 1972 single, "Long-haired Lover from Liverpool", which made him the youngest performer to have a number-one single in the UK. His career survived his voice breaking and he has recorded a total of six solo albums.

Aled Jones

Came to fame as boy soprano after joining the choir of Bangor cathedral aged nine. Best known for "Walking in the Air", from The Snowman, which reached number five in the UK charts in 1985. His voice broke at 16, by which time he had sold six million albums. Now recording as a lyric baritone, he is also a presenter for Classic FM.