THE director of the smash hit film Billy Elliot was among the celebrities attending the musical version’s North-East debut last night (Thursday, March 8).

Stephen Daldry made his feature film debut with Billy Elliot in 2000 and went on to join the creative team that brought the tale of the coal miner’s son to the stage.

The gala marked the musical’s first appearance in the region as it embarks on its first UK tour.

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Mr Daldry said: “We are thrilled and delighted.

“We’ve spent 11 years doing this show all over the world, and for 11 years we have wanted t come to Sunderland, after millions of people had seen the show from that village just down the road."

Set during the miners’ strike, the original film about a boy who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer was shot in Easington and became a massive hit, inspiring a stage version of the show with music from Sir Elton John.

Four boys will share the lead role during its tour: 12-year-olds Adam Abbou from Liverpool and Lewis Smallman from West Bromwich, alongside Matthew Lyons from Leeds and Haydn May, from Bath, both aged 11.

However, several North-East actors are joining the cast, including nine-year-old Elliot Stiff, from Sunderland, who performs as Billy’s best friend Michael, while the role of Debbie is taken by 10-year-olds Lily Cadwallender, from Hartlepool, Evie Martin, from Middlesbrough, and Italia Ross, also from Hartlepool.

The final performance of the West End Billy Elliot at Victoria Palace Theatre in London, will see Easington Colliery Band perform a moving set.

Proceeds from that performance will go to the East Durham Trust, with writer Lee Hall presenting a cheque to trust chief executive Malcolm Fallow on Tuesday.

Tickets for the Sunderland show are priced from £17.50 to £65. Box office: 0844 871 3022.

Billy Elliot The Musical runs at Sunderland Empire until Saturday, April 30.