The multi-award winning sensation is the joyous celebration of one boy’s journey to make his dreams come true. Set in a small town, the story follows Billy as he stumbles out of the boxing ring and into a ballet class, discovering a surprising talent that inspires his family and his whole community and changes his life forever.
Billy Elliot the Musical has earned critical acclaim on Broadway, including 10 Tony Awards and features J.P. Viernes, Ty Forhan, Kylend Hetherington, and Lex Ishimoto in the role of ‘Billy,’ who head a stellar ensemble
Vital VOICE recently caught up with out actor Patrick Wetzel who plays the loveable Mr. Braithwaite. The veteran entertainer talks about being on tour, the unique draw of Billy Elliot and the story of the underdog.
Colin Murphy: How’s the touring experience treating you?
Patrick Wetzel: Well, it’s great. I haven’t toured for about 10-years, but it’s a wonderful way to see the country and take advantage of seeing all of these different cities. I usually work in New York, but this is pretty fantastic. I sort of feel like—who else gets a job where you get to tour all over the country and see amazing places?
CM: Billy Elliot is a monster hit – how did its creators manage to turn the 2001 movie into a Broadway smash?
PW: It’s one of my favorite movies and I really think they’ve done a wonderful job adapting it to the stage. It really lent itself to being a musical. There’s obviously the dancing stuff—that element is taken care of, but it’s also got some really great tunes. It’s a story of family and community, so naturally that lends itself to the heightened dramatic needs of the musical level. People just seem to go crazy for it. It’s just a story that people are drawn to and people keep coming back to. It’s the story of the underdog—this family and working class community where it would seem so unlikely to have this kid go into the arts. It’s foreign territory for them and for some reason we’re all drawn to that. Especially during these difficult economic times, people are really rooting for the underdog. People are just really drawn to the story. It’s a really great adaptation.
CM: I know gay audiences can identify with the young artist in the industrial town—the blue collar dad coming to terms with the artistic son—we’re really drawn to that narrative…
PW: Yeah—especially as a gay community, we can certainly relate to that—being the minority in unfamiliar territory with not a lot of people around us that are like us. There’s actually a secondary storyline in the play that touches on a gay issue. It’s not heavy-handed, but it’s there. It’s very sweet—it’s very similar to the movie, so if you’re familiar with the story, you know what I’m talking about. They handle it with such care and preciousness and it’s really quite touching, I think.
CM: Tell us about your character, Mr. Braithwaite
PW: Mr. Braithwaite—he’s the piano player for Billy’s class. He’s kind of a beer guzzling, wanna-be-rocker who is living 10-years prior to where he should be. He’s wearing clothes that are a little too small for him and he’s still kind of hanging on to [the past]. He’s a little bit of comic relief in a show that’s basically a drama, and it’s a lot of fun. I get to do a fun number with Billy where we tap dance and jump rope at the same time. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will tell you I take off my clothes [laughs.].
CM: What would you say is the underlying message of Billy Elliot?
PW: In the end, Billy Elliot is about family and community and taking care of our own. It just seems like in a time like now with the economy the way it is—it’s all we have. All we have is each other, right? We have to take care of each other.
Billy Elliot the Musical dances onto the Fabulous Fox Theatre stage November 1-13. Performance times are Tuesday-Saturday evenings at 8pm; Saturday & Sunday matinees at 2pm and Sunday, November 6 at 7:30pm. There is also a weekday matinee on Thursday, November 10 at 1pm. Ticket prices start at $33 and are subject to change; please refer to fabulousfox.com for current pricing. Tickets are available at the Fox Theatre box office, online at metrotix.com and by phone at 314-534-1111.
BY: COLIN MURPHY – SENIOR WRITER