Whether it is gardening, dancing, painting or baseball, we all have a passion. For many of us, we are content to have the passion be a hobby, but for others, they chase the dream and make a career of it. For Billy Elliot the Musical’s Leah Hocking, finding and living your passion is one of the most important things one can do, and she has learned to follow her own, even after devastating circumstances.
The musical, with book and lyrics by Lee Hall and music by Sir Elton John, takes place in a small mining town in North Eastern England during the miner’s strike in 1984-1985. After boxing practice one afternoon, Billy stumbles upon a ballet class and becomes enthralled. Soon his father learns of the dance lessons and forbids Billy from attending. From that point Billy must find a way to pursue his dreams.
“It is a fantastic, beautiful piece of theater. It’s very human,” mentions Hocking, who plays Mrs. Wilkinson. “There’s something for everybody, and it is well, crafted.”
A veteran of the Broadway stage, Hocking has originated several roles, and this musical is one that she knows well. An original member of the Broadway cast, she has played the Dead Mum and has been in the ensemble while she was the understudy of Mrs. Wilkinson.
To her, the musical is flawless. “I can’t find anything wrong with it, which is very rare,” she says. In her opinion, with a new show many producers “tend to rush to production,” but Billy Elliot the Musical is an exception. “These guys worked hard at crafting the musical. The show itself is so diverse. It’s funny. It’s sad,” she explains. “The music is really diverse. It’s Elton John, but he has written so many different styles.”
One number in the show exemplifies the tightness of the musical. “’Solidarity’ is the best crafted musical theater piece I’ve ever seen. Not only is it my favorite in the show, but it’s also my favorite ever,” Hocking declares. “The storytelling is incredible. The way they interweave the miners and the ballet class makes it such a well-crafted number.”
Yet, that number is not the only one that she is drawn to in the show. “’Born to Boogie’ has ended up being the most fun,” she mentions. “When I did the show in New York, it didn’t feel that way to me, but it does now.”
Playing Mrs. Wilkinson, who takes the time to teach Billy ballet because she sees the natural talent in him, provides a thrilling experience for her. “She’s fascinating, so nice to play a character like that. Not boring at all,” says Hocking. “She was so cold and shut down and let this little boy into her heart. I think that the fact that she puts her soul into this kid and that she becomes the best teacher she could be, clearly she didn’t want to be a teacher, is inspiring.”
Not only does the show appeal to her in many ways, she has a personal connection to it as well. She is an advocate of the musical’s main theme. “To me the most basic message is to follow your passion,” Hocking says. “I think it is a great message that everybody should try. People end up being miserable if you don’t.”
Her character Ms. Wilkinson can be seen as a prime example of how miserable one can become when following a passion is denied. “She dreamt of being a dancer, but she got pregnant,” she explains. “She didn’t get to follow her dreams. Now, she’s a dance teacher with a daughter who isn’t living up to her standards, and she is not particularly nice to her daughter.”
Being a miser directly results from her broken dreams; however, with Billy she has chance to help someone pursue his own passion. “She lives vicariously through Billy,” Hocking mentions. But, Hocking also has learned to follow her dreams herself.
Like many people, the circumstances of life have forced her to put her own dreams on hold. “My husband died a year ago of ALS,” she says. “It was tough, but I learned a lot, though difficult.” This tour serves as way for both her and her daughter to “move forward” after taking a leave of absence and subsequently leaving the Broadway company to care for her ailing husband and grieve his death.
Her experiences have taught her to follow her passions even more and put things into perspective. “The older I get, the less important making money becomes, and I try to install that in my daughter,” Hocking states. “Everybody should work because we need to live, but I don’t think people should work to make more money.”
While this is her first touring experience, the process has been made easier by playing a role she admires and working with a cast she enjoys. “The whole company is fantastic – just a bunch of great people, and I love the role. It’s an amazing role,” she says.
Billy Elliot the Musical runs through March 18 at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. For more information or tickets, please visit the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Atlanta website. Tickets are also available at the Fox Theatre box office, all Ticketmaster outlets, by phone at 1-800-982-2787 or online.
By: Kenny Norton