Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Theater Review: Billy Elliot The Musical

Filed under: Performing Arts — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 01:50

rbtl-billyelliot_1.jpg The Broadway tour of Billy Elliot: The Musical has made its stop at the Bob Carr Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando this week. While the show was going to have a two-week engagement, lagging ticket sales unfortunately resulted in the show’s stint being shortened by a week. Consequently, it plays through this Sunday only. And if you can obtain tickets to the show, I highly recommend you do so. This is a great show that has a very rich and moving story told by some excellent actors (many of whom are children) who display an extraordinary amount of talent. The musical is pop-rock in design (what else would you expect from Sir Elton John,who wrote the show’s music?) and while enjoyable, isn’t the most memorable aspect of the show. That would rest in the actual dancing that is prominent in many of the scenes and the beautifully moving story of a young boy who dared to be different in a time of upheaval and extreme adversity.

The backdrop of the story centers on a striking community of  coal miners in Northern England, who are enduring the conservative anti-union leadership of newly-elected British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. These blue-collared men are making a harsh decision to abstain from work, which is taking an extreme financial and emotional toll on their families. The Elliot family consisting of a father, his youngest son Billy, eldest son Tony, and his mother (Grandma) have been hard hit by the strike, with both Dad and Tony unemployed. We also learn early in the show that the family is without its matriarch, who died presumably when Billy was quite young. Amid the strike, Dad is giving Billy what little money he has to send him to get skilled in the hyper-masculine sport of boxing. But, Billy’s interest lies instead in ballet dancing. And he begins taking lessons with a caring yet tough dance instructor named Mrs. Wilkinson, who after recognizing Billy’s extraordinary potential, inspires him to pursue an audition with the Royale Ballet School of London.

Of course, when Dad and Tony discover that Billy is actually learning the traditionally female-dominated skill of dance, they loudly disapprove and put it to a screeching hault. As the story moves into Act II, Dad and the rest of the mining community slowly shift their support behind Billy, realizing that his talent for dance may be a golden ticket to a better life, one that none of them ever had the opportunity to live.  The main characters of Dad (Rich Hebert), Tony (Cullen R. Titmas), and Grandma (Cynthia Darlow) are wonderfully performed. Each actor has a long extensive list of Broadway show credits to his or her name. But the real scene stealers are Billy (played by Kylend Hetherington at my performance–but rotated among several child actors) and Mrs. Wilkinson (Leak Hocking–who was in the OBC of Billy Elliot). Both actors are tremendous. Hocking brings her character to life; and Hetherington not only demonstrates his extraordinary skill in dancing, but his ability to sing and tear at the audience’s heart strings. “Dear Billy (Mum’s Letter)” had everyone around me in the theater crying; and the dream sequence in Act II featuring Billy and his envisioned older self is breathtaking.

The entire show is inspirational, uplifting, and thought-provoking. It has a lot of highs and a lot of lows. And although it’s almost three hours in length, it keeps a fast pace without one boring lull.  The cast is full of child actors, each of which is fantastic. Billy’s best friend Michael is wonderfully played by Cameron Clifford. His character is an interesting one that somewhat perplexed me. He has a taste for female clothing and has a feminine personality, which is somewhat of a distraction in several scenes that attempt to depict ballet dancing as a sport fitting for men rather than an emasculating art. While he provided some great opportunities for comic relief, his character may have been a bit too stereotypical for my liking. Nonetheless, by the end of the show, your heart melts for him. The sets of the show are also incredible! Many set changes take place within the set itself as drawer-like contraptions expand and shrink settings and scenes. And a stage that is at once completely full of scenery, props, and sets quickly becomes one of a barren dance floor, punctuated by lights and shadows that are brilliantly manipulated to illustrate a scene.

While I wouldn’t say the music of the show is its best quality, it isn’t bad either. Some of the numbers like “We’d Go Dancing” and “Angry Dance” provide an excellent sense of emotion that is humorous and sweet in the former and angry and relentless in the latter. Overall, this show was fantastic. The acting, dancing, technical aspects, and overall production make this show one that is worth seeing. If you aren’t moved by the touching and beautiful message of Billy Elliot, then it’s time to have a little introspection. Because this is one amazing musical that will make  you shed a tear or two,  crack a smile, and triumphantly cheer! It’s one of those rare shows that will enlighten your mind and lift your spirit. It’s sad the show didn’t have a longer life on Broadway. But luckily for us, it’s here in Orlando this week and it shouldn’t be missed. Billy Elliot The Musical plays through Sunday at Orlando’s Bob Carr Center for the Performing Arts.

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