‘Billy Elliot the Musical’ Dances On The Fargo-Moorhead Stage
When young actor Drake Aasen was cast as Billy Elliot in Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre’s production of “Billy Elliot the Musical,” the 13-year-old dance novice knew he had big tap shoes to fill.
Until last November, Aasen had never tap danced or done ballet. Much like his character, however, Aasen quickly picked up both dance forms with help from director/co-choreographer Anna Carol and co-choreographer Matthew Gasper.
“No one else gets to see what his progress was, but Matt and I have stood next to him helping him grow through this,” Carol said. “Our Billy Elliot isn’t going to look like the Broadway Billy Elliot. He’ll look like a Fargo-Moorhead Billy Elliot.”
FMCT opens “Billy Elliot the Musical” — a coming-of-age story that portrays the 1985 miner’s strike in northeastern England through the eyes of a boy destined for dancing greatness — at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 5, at The Stage at Island Park.
Written by Lee Hall with music by Elton John, “Billy Elliot the Musical” follows motherless Billy, a young English boy who trades boxing gloves for ballet slippers behind his father’s back when a dance teacher notices his potential.
As Billy’s passion for dance grows, social unrest escalates in his small mining community as it fights an oppressive government threatening to privatize the mines.
And life at home isn’t much better. While Billy and his family worry about the fate of their main source of income, they also struggle to cope with the lingering void his mother’s death left behind.
“There’s very little spectacle to this show,” Carol said. “It’s a biographical snapshot of what life felt like in that time period.”
Carol stepped in as the interim artistic director for FMCT last October and started preparing for “Billy Elliot” in November.
She partnered with Matthew Gasper, the artistic director of Gasper’s School of Dance and the Fargo-Moorhead Ballet, to form “Billy Camp” last fall — a free five-week dance camp for local boys to learn dance routines and later audition for the role of Billy Elliot.
“The role of Billy is hard. Whoever plays him has to know how to dance, be a good actor and be quite young,” Carol said. “This production could be polished, but we’re really trying to capitalize on the fact that Billy is a dancer in training.”
But Carol said Drake Aasen — who auditioned for Billy Elliot among four other boys — does an “amazing” job.
“It’s a cool role,” said Aasen, who’s been involved in theater since fourth grade. “I feel like I can connect to him in a personal way. He has an interpersonal struggle that’s fun to present to the audience and it’s cool to see his journey.”
The cast showcases almost 30 actors of all ages, and they’ve all worked hard to master the original choreography, learn the Yorkshire accents and channel the raw emotions of the story.
“There are happy scenes, sad scenes and angry scenes,” Aasen continued. “I want the audience to feel the same way as the characters. It will immerse them more into the show.”
Carol also hopes the audience engages with the story and absorbs the powerful messages of solidarity, acceptance and self-expression.
“I don’t know if Billy knows for sure what he wants, but he knows it’s worth exploring — and that’s a powerful message to deliver to people,” Carol said.
This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and originally appeared in print on Monday, May 1, 2017.