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Ryan Kopel (Billie the Kid)

It's always exciting to be witness of the development of new British musicals, especially when the plots are intertwined with incredibly important and relevant stories that deserve to be told. Written by Gez Mercer and Conway McDermott, and directed by Kerry Kyriacos Michael, New musical Billie the Kid will hold three semi-staged concerts for the VERY first time at Vaudeville Theatre on the 13th, 20th and 27th November. We took the opportunity to Speak to the incredibly talented Ryan Kopel (Newsies, The Book of Mormon), who will be playing 'David Frances', to tell us more about this exciting and upcoming new musical.

You are currently in rehearsals for new musical ‘Billie the Kid’ – can you tell us a little bit about the story?

So the show is set in the bible belt of America, and its centred around Billie Belle, a seventeen year old girl who has spent her whole life living in her grandma’s tiny trailer, saving discount-store coupons and working nightshifts just to keep the lights on! When we join the story, Billie finds out that her childhood sweetheart Brody, has been sending dirty DM’s to the gay kid in school, David Frances. The show kind of explores all the emotions that come along with that; the betrayal she feels from her boyfriend, but also the love and protection she can’t help but still feel towards him. And when she decides to stand by him, she finds herself at the heart of a completely different love story, one that is defined by justice and equality.

You play the character ‘David Frances’, can you tell us a little bit more about your character?

Yes! So in a sentence, David is the schools queer punk rocker kid….and yes, that is as fun to play as it sounds. He’s had a really rough time with bullying and being isolated from everyone around him. But one of the reasons I was originally so drawn to him, is that despite his circumstances, he is still so unapologetically and defiantly himself; he is a person who is determined, despite the consequences, to live truthfully and freely. And ultimately, he’s an idealist. He has the ability to picture a word where, not just himself, but everyone can be who they really want to be, despite everything and everyone around him telling him that’s not the case. I’ve really fallen in love with him as a character!

With a new musical, there’s a lot of freedom to explore and define your character. Have you been giving much guidance to this, or have you had a lot of independence?

Oh this whole process has been an absolute dream in terms of being able to create these beautiful, flawed, three dimensional humans. The script is so fantastic, that I came into rehearsals with some really clear ideas of who David was, and every day, I’ve been allowed to explore and expand those ideas, and also been challenged on them. It’s been a real collaborative experience, with our director and also the other actors that I get to work with. I feel like we’ve all been finding this world together, and it really has just been such a joy, I’ve very much not taken it for granted.

You recently played ‘Davey’ in Newsies at the Troubadour, what are the similarities or differences of both characters?

Well despite the obvious name similarities, I would say on the surface there aren’t a lot of similarities; Davey Jacobs exists in 1899 New York, and David Frances is living in a pre-Trump 2015 South Carolina. But actually, there is an interesting parallel in the sense that, both of these young guys are outsiders. They’re people who don’t fit into the environment that they find themselves a part of. Where I think they differ is that while Davey Jacobs has a sort of desire to be a part of the group of Newsies and the city around him, David Frances is proudly different and wants nothing more than to get out of his hometown.

How has the rehearsal process been so far, have you faced any challenges in this role that you haven’t had to consider before?

The rehearsal process has been incredible. It’s been so creatively fulfilling to work on a new show, to be creating this world that we get to invite audiences into. I think for all of us, thats been one of the most exciting things, that we get to put something on that could change the way people look at things.

Billie the Kid will initially be performed as a staged concert, what are your thoughts on performing a staged concert as opposed to a full production?

Ooh it's difficult, because I suppose in rehearsals we haven’t really given it much thought yet. The show is very full out, and we’re all just doing the best we can to tell the most honest and effective story possible. Maybe on stage, when we don’t have as much set etc around us, it might kick in a little more. But I really think all we can worry about and focus on is telling the story of these characters as best as we possibly can, because the stories really are worth telling.

This musical appears to have a more punk/rock style score, how have you found this vocally?

It's been a challenge let me tell you!! The score is absolutely incredible. It's rocky, it's pop-y, and it's been so much fun to get to sing it all. But with that, it has also been vocally challenging, these songs are crazy high and it requires a discipline that I’ve never really had to think about before. Just in terms of making sure my voice is at its healthiest; I don’t ever want to be going into a performance worrying about it because these songs just don't give you a chance to rest, which is both terrifying and exhilarating!

Why should theatre fans book their ticket for Billie the Kid?

Audiences should come and see Billie the Kid because it truly is a story that is so relevant today. It matters. It’s a story about queer people, but more than that it’s about queer joy. It’s a show about celebrating a community of people who are being attacked daily. It’s also some of the best music I’ve ever heard in a show, so come and hear it for yourself! 

Billie the Kid is running at Vaudeville Theatre on Monday 20th November and Monday 27th November. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


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