BILLY ELLIOT—THE MUSICAL
By Gary Murray
Starring Faith Prince, Patti Perkins, Rich Hebert and Jeff Kready
Book and lyrics by Lee Ball
Lyrics by Elton John
Billy Elliot was a 2000 movie about a young boy yearning to dance. His desire comes into direct opposition to poverty and prejudice as he learns the ballet. His fight to get an audition with the Royal Ballet School as the miners in his Dunham village strike for better conditions was just the kind of cinema experience that harked back to movies of the 1940s. So it would make sense to turn it into a musical.
Sir Elton John has had much success lately with the Broadway stage. He was the force behind The Lion King and Aida. He seems to have a magic touch with the Great White Way. He is also the musical genius behind he music of Billy Elliot—The Musical.
The play follows the basic plot of the movie. Billy Elliot (Kylend Hetherington) is a kid just trying to survive in the rough little hamlet he calls home. The opening number is “The Stars Look Down”. It takes place on the eve of the Dunham Miners’ Strike in 1984. We see most of the full company, a large production of miners and family members.
All of the family lives it their little abode. Billy’s mom has passed on but we do see her in Billy’s imagination. In Act 1 Mum appears in the song “Dear Billy (Mum’s Letter)” and again in Act II in “Dear Billy (Billy’s Reply)”. Those two songs carried such emotional weight that the audience was in pin-drop silence with only sniffles being heard. Beverly Ward brings such pathos to her voice and performance. The moments with her and Kylend work on so many levels.
Billy is late going to boxing lesions and has to stay after to give the community room key to the next class instructor. The class is ballet and the instructor is Mrs. Wilkinson (Faith Prince). Faith is a Broadway mainstay who has been on television and in the movies. She just steals her opening coming across as a distant cousin of Cruella DeVil. She runs a school of few talents but solid determinations.
As Billy watches the girls the feels something stirring down in his soul, it is the desire to dance. He knows that ballet is his calling but he and every other male in town know that dancing is for ‘poofs’ otherwise known as homosexuals. Billy is in fear of telling his Dad of his desire to dance.
Dad has other problems. In the song “Solidarity” we see how bad it is for the union men in their strike. The police crack heads, doing the bullying tactics to break the men. The big number of Act 1 is “Expressing Yourself.” Billy goes to see the only ‘poof’ kid in town Michael (Griffin Dirney). The two boys trying on ‘girls-clothes’ turn the number into a Busby Berkley style musical number, with giant dancing dresses and twinkling lights. It is one of those fun “Hairspray” style pieces that elevate the dour aspects of the mining town.
The second act is Billy going to the audition and the breaking of the union. As Billy’s life gets a first chance, the town looses it last chance. It is a bittersweet moment as we learn the fate of all those we have rooted for on stage. The number “Electricity” shows both the promise of Billy and the hope for his future.
The entire production of Billy Elliot—The Musical rivals the best of Broadway. The sets glide over the stage, never becoming a burden but an effective tool to help tell the tale. The sound at the Winspear Opera House was note perfect and every utterance could be heard. The acting and singing is all first-rate, perfectly executed.
There needs to be a warning about Billy Elliot—The Musical. As the play goes on, obscene finger gestures and rough language are peppered within the dialogue. The workers are definitely from the poorer classes and the lack of breeding shows in the characters. This uplifting story is not for children. If it were a motion picture, it would be rated R just for the language. I would love to see a more kid friendly version of the work produced, so families could take their children without being exposed to the more base elements of the work.
That aside, Billy Elliot—The Musical is a wonderful musical experience worthy of those 10 Tony Awards it received. This is a show that should not be missed.