Maggie and Billy
By David Rosenberg
“Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher,
May God’s love be with you,
We all sing together in one breath;
Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher,
We all celebrate today,
Cos it’s one day closer to your death.”
-- from “Billy Elliot”
That song from “Billy Elliot,” illustrated with an oversized puppet caricature, is meant to mock not shock. Yet, on April 8, the day the day Margaret Thatcher died, London producers of the hit musical worried about showing signs of disrespect. An audience poll was taken: Perform the number or cut it?
The verdict? Perform it.
The great musical is about coal miners thrown out of work by Thatcher’s conservative policies. Resisting, the miners strike for better wages and working conditions. Against this background is the story of the eponymous teenager who wants to be a ballet dancer.
With a score by Elton John and lyrics by Lee Hall, an American touring version of “Billy Elliot” is coming to Hartford’s Bushnell in June where, presumably, a similar poll will not be taken. Not that we don’t have politicians out to break the unions, as Thatcher did.
According to The Guardian, when she died, former Scottish miners “popped corks, swigged whisky from silver hip flasks and…cracked morbid jokes: ‘Maggie's in hell and she's shut down three furnaces already.’” It was a backward compliment to her strength.
Take another current West End production. In “The Audience,” Helen Mirren, as Queen Elizabeth II, holds conversations with various prime ministers, including a tenacious Thatcher. Appearing in front of theatergoers the night Thatcher died, playwright Peter Morgan made a respectful speech before the curtain went up. His script was not changed.
Photo: scene from "Billy Elliott: The Musical)