The 350 seat Signature Theatre will play host to a regional production of Billy Elliot the Musical (BETM), from October 30, 2018 to January 6, 2019.
Twenty-five years ago Washington, DC’s theater scene was dominated by large venues that presented mostly traditional plays. Few theaters dared to take the risk of producing new work, and even fewer produced lesser-known or new musicals. In 1989, to fill this gap and create a “signature” brand of provocative works, graphic designer and performer Eric Schaeffer took a risk and founded Signature Theatre with actor Donna Migliaccio. With a small startup budget, 126 subscribers, and a space in Arlington’s Gunston Middle School auditorium, Signature’s first musical in 1991, a gutsy production of Sweeney Todd, was a stand-out hit, putting Signature on the map, earning four Helen Hayes Awards and solidifying Signature’s (and Eric Schaeffer’s) reputation as an intrepid producer of Stephen Sondheim’s work.
In 1993, Signature took another risk and converted an old auto garage into the theater where it thrived for the following thirteen years. While in the “garage,” Signature grew into one of the Washington area’s leading producers of musical theater, attracting the best and brightest in the field, as well as nurturing new talent.
In January 2007, Signature completed a $16 million capital campaign for a dramatic new two-theater facility that tripled its former garage space and now serves as the cultural anchor of Arlington’s Village at Shirlington.
Today, under the leadership of co-founder and Artistic Director Schaeffer and Managing Director Maggie Boland, musical theater has become Signature’s “signature,” and the Theatre is renowned for its definitive Sondheim productions, inventive adaptations of overlooked or forgotten works, and investment in fresh new projects.
Called a “musical theater powerhouse” by The Washington Post, Signature combines Broadway-caliber productions with intimate playing spaces and aims to be a leading force in U.S. musical theater. Since its inception, the Theatre has produced 56 world premiere works, including 19 new musical commissions, and is home to the single largest musical theater commissioning project in the United States, The American Musical Voices Project.
Besides Billy Elliot The Musical (BETM), this year’s season at the Signature also includes the musicals Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Grand Hotel, as well as a world premiere musical commissioned by Signature Theatre called Blackbeard, described as “hilarious, wildly original, and immersively staged entirely on a pirate ship, Blackbeard is a fresh musical salute to the Seven Seas.”
BETM Director Matthew Gardiner, replying to an interview in the Washington Blade newspaper, said he almost didn’t do “Billy Elliot.” For some time, Signature’s Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer wanted to mount the Tony Award-winning musical scored by Elton John and wanted Gardiner to direct. But Gardiner wasn’t excited about the movie made into a musical. “I’d seen the film and knew it was very special, but I’d never seen the musical,” Gardiner says. “Something about the Broadway marketing of miners in tutus turned me off. It seemed a little cloying.”
But finally, Gardiner sat down and read the libretto and listened to the score in his office at Signature in Arlington.
“I lost it,” he says. “This kid is a dancer who finds his voice and that was me. I wasn’t prepared for the moving story of loss and community.”
Most people “know Billy Elliot as the story of a working-class boy who wants to dance, but it is about far more than that. It’s a show about people who feel like their voices aren’t being heard. It’s as much about the young boy who wants to break out through dance as it is about the community around him that feels forgotten. It’s the juxtaposition of the childhood dream against the reality of the world around him that makes Lee Hall and Elton John’s musical so moving and joyous. I’m thrilled to direct and choreograph this company of actors and to work together to bring Billy’s story to life.”
Two young men will lead the 35 member cast of BETM — one a veteran in the role, Liam Redford, and the other who will be making his debut as Billy, Owen Tabaka.
In the days leading up to the opening of the production, Signature Theatre released this promotional video, featuring Owen Tabaka as Billy:
Credit: Video by sigtheatre
To see a complete listing of the rest of the Signature Theatre cast, just click on the Cast Information button.