From left, Korea’s first Billys Lee Ji-myeong, Jung Jin-ho, Im Sun-woo and Kim Se-yong jump high during the showcase of the Korean production of “Billy Elliot,” which will be staged in August for the first time in Asia.
/ Courtesy of Magi Stella
By Chung Ah-young
All eyes were fixated on the small, baby-faced boys selected as Billy Elliot. They had gone through a four-phase audition process for the much-anticipated Asian premiere of "Billy Elliot."
In a room packed with 400 foreign and local reporters and thespians, the four Billys were revealed to the public for the first time.
The musical is the first non-English production of "Billy Elliot" in Asia and the fourth production in the world, following ones in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.
Praised as one of the decade's top-class sensational musicals, the production is set to create the biggest storm in the Korean performance scene this year.
Based on the hit film of the same name, "Billy Elliot" revolves around the inspirational story of a boy who realizes his dream against all odds. Set in the North East of England against the background of the historic 1984-85 miners' strike, Billy pursues his dream to become a ballerino in secret although his struggling family opposes it.
The award-winning musical was created by writer Lee Hall, director Stephen Daldry, choreographer Peter Darling and composer Sir Elton John.
Starting with the first open auditions in Seoul in February 2009, the regional auditions were held in Daegu, Busan, Gwangju, Daejeon, and up until the 4th open auditions in January this year, the one-year-long run of "finding Billy" targeted all Korean boys under the height of 150 centimeters. Some 800 boys applied for the auditions and, finally, four were selected.
They are being trained at the "Billy School" under the "Making Billy Project." They receive training ranging from ballet, tap, acrobatics, contemporary dance and pilates to acting and singing.
Kim Se-yong, 13; Lee Ji-myeong, 13; Im Sun-woo, 11; and Jung Jin-ho, 12, are Korea's first Billys.
"My specialty is ballet but I was worried whether I could do other dances such as tap and acrobatics at the auditions. Now I want to become better than the British or Australian Billys," Kim told reporters at the showcase.
Kim entered Sunhwa Arts School this year. He is gifted in ballet and firmly stood out at the auditions. Starting at the age of seven and ranking first at the Youth America Grand Prix 2009 in Ballet, this young aspiring performer is expected to become a future rising star who will lead the Korean ballet. He is the Billy that boasts an instinctive natural sense in ballet evidenced by the professional career awards he received.
Lee said, "After I passed the auditions, I had more self-confidence, although I felt nervous in the audition process. I will do my best for the next few months before the opening of the musical."
He built his musical career acting as Young Simba in the musical "The Lion King" in 2006 and Young Prince in "The Last Empress" in 2007 and 2008. Though he learned dances, including ballet, tap and hip-hop, at the Billy School for the first time, he is improving fast with the guidance of the choreography team and his innate competitive spirit.
Im, the youngest of the four, has swept the local ballet scene. He is being noted as a young star who will carry the future of Korean ballet along with the other Billys.
"I didn't have enough time to practice during the auditions. But now I am happy to focus on the vocal and dance training," Im said.
In March, he will participate in the Youth America Grand Prix, where Kim won the top place last year, and is currently devoting himself to final preparations for the stage with strong determination to be acknowledged internationally as a representative of Korean ballet.
"For the remaining training period, I will work harder than I have done so far to show the perfect Billy," said Jung.
Jung, a tap prodigy, surprised the creative team and was recognized for his skills with unique tap choreography to "Singing in the Rain" at the February auditions of 2009. Jung, who received ballet lessons for the first time at the Billy School, is making his own graceful character through sincerity and constant practice. The boy, with excellent skills in not only tap and ballet but also the violin, is receiving advanced education with future hopes of becoming PhD in economics. Jung shows his passion for the musical by memorizing the lyrics and songs of the musical in English and mastered the major scenes by himself through YouTube.
Moon Mi-ho, CEO and producer of Magi Stella, the Korean production company, said that when she attained the license to put the musical on the Korean stage, the original creative team and many other companies doubted that Korean Billys could emulate the originals.
"But I have never doubted on the potential of Korean boys. Now I am very happy to show our lovely and talented Billys to the world," said Moon. She recognized the value of the work and knocked on the British production company Working Title's door.
The musical scooped up ten awards at the 2009 Tony Awards. The Korean production with a budget of 15 billion won will open in August at the LG Arts Center.