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Changes Ahead For EJ Musical

Thursday 23 February 2006 @ 16:55 - GMT

An American actor is among an international cast of boys lined up to play Billy Elliot in the West End, the BBC announced today.

Colin Bates from Pennsylvania, and six other actors, including Layton Williams, an 11-year-old black Briton, will all star in the musical as the Tyneside boy who wins a place at the Royal Ballet.

Dean McCarthy, 14, from Dublin, will also join the show, which is nominated for nine Laurence Olivier Awards.

The production, which opened last May with a score composed by Sir Elton, is based on the film starring Jamie Bell.

Colin, whose father is from the UK, said he had found the move to London "a bit scary" but understood the story of the boy chasing his dreams in a mining town, despite coming from the U.S.

The 15-year-old, who plays the son of Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie in the forthcoming film The Good Shepherd, added, "There are boys that dance and boys that do football or American football and basketball.

"It's a big difference, so you can relate to the story a little bit."

Matthew Koon, 12, from Salford, Lancs, whose parents are both from Hong Kong, will be the first of the new actors to play the lead, starting on 1 March.

Director Stephen Daldry said the show was getting a multi-racial mix of leads because it did not matter "what they look like".

"It's whether they have a talent, a natural ability in place, or charisma," he said.

The three original actors to play the stage role, Liam Mower, James Lomas and George Maguire, are jointly nominated for best actor in a musical at the Laurence Olivier Awards on Sunday.

And Billy Elliot won't just stay in England. Besides opening in New York in 2007, the hit  will soon be seen in countries around the world.

Director Stephen Daldry told the Guardian there are also currently plans to mount the musical in Japan, Germany, Canada and Australia. "We want to broaden out worldwide," he said. But he noted that the challenge of the show is to find young boys able to meet the vocal and dancing challenges of the title role.