Billy (the musical)
My latest visit to a local theatre was to see the musical Billy at the Whitstable Playhouse, a theatre I’d never attended before. The production was by the Lindley Players, and starred the guy who played Bill Snibson in Me and My Girl when I was in the show in March. He is a performer I admire very much, and also a person that I like, and so I welcomed the opportunity to see him in a show from the auditorium rather than from the wings with no glasses on.
Billy is a musical version of Billy Liar, concerning a young Yorkshireman with a very active imagination, and follows him over the complications of one rather eventful day. The score by John Barry and Don Black is not one of my favourites, but I found I enjoyed and appreciated it more in context than I did when I listened to the cast recording, despite the reduced orchestration. The book (the spoken words of a musical) is by Dick Clement and Ian LaFrenais, better known for their work on some wonderful TV comedies, and is laugh-out-loud funny in parts. As I don’t know the original novel or play, I don’t know how much of that is down to them and how much is in their source material. In the second act, the comedy is still present, but the show becomes more moving as well (this often happens in musical theatre), with the characters gaining a real poignancy.
My reactions to the central character of Billy changed throughout the show, and afterwards I realised that this has a lot to do with my own character, leading to an intriguing bout of psychological self-analysis, which I won’t share with you. The guy playing him (let’s not name names) has a natural charm and assurance on stage which makes you want to like him, even when his actions aren’t entirely honourable. His singing was marvellous, and more comfortably within his range than some of the songs from Me and My Girl were. He did struggle with a faux rock-and-roll song, but that’s not in a style that suits him and he admitted quite openly that he finds that number very hard indeed. And his dancing had an ease and flow which seemed quite natural. None of the ‘rabbit in headlights’ look you often get in amateur theatre when the leading man has to strut his stuff. In the second act, I found his performance genuinely moving, almost despite myself, and the curtain call certainly dislodged a lump in my throat. I didn’t cry, but then I rarely do at the theatre, but it certainly got to me. He’s planning to take a break from musicals for a while, but I shall certainly make sure I attend whatever straight play he may become involved in, because, quite frankly, he’s bloody good.
It wasn’t a perfect production, by any means (but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a perfect production). The scene changes were unnecessarily loud from time to time, and there were a few chorus members goldfishing (opening and closing their mouths at random, pretending to be singing) at various points, particularly during the curtain call. One of the ladies sang flat several times, once when she was singing harmony with others, which is always rather ucky. She had a pleasant enough voice when she was in tune, though. Another of the ladies, playing the part of Rita, was very good indeed. Really strong voice, entirely suited to the part (casting may possibly be the hardest task in amateur circles) and she acted the socks off her few scenes. Billy’s family, particularly his grandmother, were an absolute joy to watch as well. I also enjoyed the choreography, which got everyone, dancer or not, moving. Just as well, as we’ve booked that choreographer for our own next show!
The theatre itself is a very wee one, and utterly charming. Nicely intimate without feeling cramped. And it has air-conditioning – bliss! I shall certainly be returning there in future, probably in the Autumn, when the Lindleys and the Canterbury Players are putting on some rather wonderful plays.