Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reverend's Review: Dancing King

The 2000 movie Billy Elliot didn't strike me as a candidate for stage musicalization, despite its dance-centric storyline and multiple Academy Award nominations. It was simple, spare and sweet, and that easily could have been lost in adapting it for Broadway at the cost of millions, even with original screenwriter Lee Hall and director Stephen Daldry at the helm.

It was reportedly Elton John who had the idea to turn the movie into a musical and he offered to compose the music, with Hall providing the lyrics. The resulting success, which debuted on Broadway in 2009, confirms John's Grammy-, Tony- and Oscar-winning genius and proves to be just as enchanting and touching as the film. Billy Elliot: The Musical had its Los Angeles premiere over the weekend, and subsequently blew me and local audiences away.

11-year old Billy (stunningly danced and acted on opening night by Ty Forhan, one of four boys who rotate in the role) lives in a rural mining town in mid-1980's England. His father, older brother and neighbors all feel the pain when then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher cracks down on unions throughout Great Britain. The majority of miners strike, and the community is economically decimated as a result.


Still, Billy's father (Rich Hebert, who seemed a bit weak vocally opening night and slightly old for the part) gives his younger son enough money each week to afford "manly" boxing lessons. Billy, though, finds himself increasingly drawn to the girls' ballet class that takes place in the gym following the boxers. The ballet teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (a terrific Leah Hocking), takes an interest in Billy when she recognizes his innate talent, and becomes determined to get him an audition with the Royal Ballet with or without the permission of Billy's father.

Scenic designer Ian MacNeil gives the show's sets a nice lived-in feel. While the touring production doesn't feature the working mine elevator of the New York incarnation, it uses a curtain effectively to mimic descent. Nicky Gillibrand's costumes are similarly authentic, although she goes hilariously over-the-top in a couple of big production numbers, "Shine" and "Expressing Yourself."

"Expressing Yourself" is performed by Billy and his cross-dressing, possibly gay friend, Michael, and it packs as much visual inventiveness and gay affirmation into six or seven minutes as all of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert does. Cameron Clifford played Michael in the LA premiere and nearly ran off with the show. I found his performance a bit too self-aware at times, gratingly so, but the audience clearly loved him almost as much as they loved Forhan.


Two other numbers were the standouts for me. One is a wordless duet Billy dances with his grown-up, professional dancer self. Forhan was beautifully paired with Maximilien A. Baud, and the latter helps his younger self soar into the air over the stage and even over the audience at one point. It breathtakingly encapsulated Billy's dreams and yearnings. Then there's the magnificent song "Electricity," during which Billy loses physical control in front of his Royal Ballet audition judges and, more significantly, his father.

Peter Darling's choreography is generally superb but I found a few of Billy's moves more contemporary than those we employed back in 1984-85. This is nit picky though, for Billy Elliot: The Musical is about as good as a musical can get.

Reverend's Rating: A-

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

1 comment:

  1. I have not seen the show, but it sounds amazing!

    ReplyDelete

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