Hall’s journey from Billy to War Horse to Pitmen

Jan 20

Hall’s journey from <i>Billy</i> to <i>War Horse</i> to <i>Pitmen</i>

The Bay Area has been pretty good to Lee Hall of late. Last year, his musical adaptation (with music by Sir Elton John) of his movie Billy Elliot received rapturous notices (though closed a month early) at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. It's a show that had already won the British scribe a 2009 Tony Award for best book of a musical.

Hall's Broadway follow-up to Billy was a play called The Pitmen Painters, another exploration of arts influence on the population of Northern England. Now that play makes its West Coast debut courtesy of TheatreWorks in Mountain View.

I spoke with Hall about his many and varied projects for an interview in the San Francisco Chronicle. Click for more.

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Faith renewed: A Tony winner goes on tour

Jul 07

Faith renewed: A Tony winner goes on tour

Hair piled on her head, cigarette dangling out of her mouth and a slight stoop to her posture, Faith Prince can get a laugh just walking across the stage as Mrs. Wilkinson, the dissatisfied dance teacher in Billy Elliot the Musical. And the laugh's even bigger if she's rocking her fuzzy-trimmed '80s coat.

On the road for nearly a year now, Prince is experiencing -- if you can believe this -- her first-ever national tour. Perhaps it's not so surprising that since she made her Broadway debut as Gypsy stripper Tessie Tura in Jerome Robbin's Broadway in 1989, Prince has worked steadily and on her own terms. She won a Tony in 1992 for her unforgettable turn as Miss Adelaide in the benchmark revival of Guys and Dolls, and she was nominated again for her role as the mother of the bride in 2008's A Catered Affair.

When deciding whether or not to hit the road with Billy Elliot, Prince considered the nice, long run in San Francisco at the Orpheum Theatre (part of the SHN season) and how easy it would be to drive home and be with her family in Sacramento on her days off.

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Oi! Dancing boy! The barnstorming brilliance of Billy Elliot

Jun 29

Oi! Dancing boy! The barnstorming brilliance of <i>Billy Elliot</i>

When Billy Elliot the Musical caused a sensation in London in 2005 and then swept the 2009 Tonys with 10 awards, you could be excused for wondering what all the fuss was about. Wasn’t this yet another in a seemingly endless and mostly unnecessary line of movie-into-musical transformations?

The answer in the case of Billy is a definite no. There has never been a musical quite like this before that blends politics and pathos, glitz and grim reality, corny schmaltz and genuine emotion. This is sophisticated stuff: an old-fashioned and new-fangled musical all jumbled up in one fascinating, enormously entertaining package. It’s a sad story with joyous highs and inspiring performances.

All that said, the musical is still not as good as the 2000 movie it’s based on (which is an absolute gem), but given that the movie’s creative team also worked on the musical indicates a pleasingly high level of integrity in the musical expansion of this story.

The touring version of Billy Elliot, the final show of the SHN season, opened Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre for a three-month run, and it’s “cush,” to use the characters’ Northern England slang.

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