Sunday, October 27, 2019

Review of "Billy Elliot"

Billy Elliot, playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through November 24th, is one of the best productions I have seen at the venerable theater in many years.  Director Gabriel Barre has masterfully reconfigured this large-scale musical for the smaller confines of the Goodspeed stage without sacrificing the show’s emotional core or beautifully realized dance numbers. 
Liam Vincent Hutt as Billy with the cast of Billy Elliot, playing through November 24th. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

The show, with a score by Elton John and Lee Hall, tells the story of 13-year-old Billy Elliott (at this performance played by Liam Vincent Hutt) who, through inadvertent circumstances, becomes enrolled in an afterschool ballet class.  His talent soon becomes apparent to his tough-minded instructor, Mrs. Wilkinson (Michelle Aravena), who begins to groom him for a tryout with the Royal Ballet unbeknownst to his widowed, disapproving father (Sean Hayden) and older brother.   The story is played out against the political backdrop of the 1984-85 miner’s strike in northern England, which left villages like this one in County Durham, impoverished and in dire straits. 

Lee Hall, who wrote the book of the show, lyrics and the original screenplay for the 2000 movie the musical is based on, has created a story that is full of passion, emotional highs and lows, and adversity.  He has fashioned full-bodied characters that can pull at our heartstrings.  The social forces within the country at the time are fully realized and add a hard-edged and cynical layer to the show. 
The cast of Billy Elliot, playing through November 24th. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.
The songs by Elton John and Lee Hall can be intoxicating, uplifting, and bring a tear to the eye.  Standouts include the political-laden “Solidarity,” the high-spirited “Expressing Yourself,” and the boundless exuberance of “Electricity.”

The choreography by Marc Kimelman can be fun-loving (“Shine”), rambunctious (“Expressing Yourself”), breathtaking and captivating (“Dream Sequence”).  The “Dream Sequence” is a stunning piece of work that left me numb with exhilaration.  There are some miscues in the choreography, as in the disjointed “Angry Dance,” but, overall, the jazz, tap, and ballet numbers are at an exceptional level that elevates the production to dizzying heights.
Jan Martens and Liam Vincent Hutt in Billy Elliot, playing through November 24th. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.
The cast is led by Liam Vincent Hutt as Billy.  He has a youthful vitality and brings a sustained energy to the role.  His dancing ability is exceptional.  The young actor needs to be the focus of the musical and he does not disappoint.  Michelle Aravena delivers a world-weariness to the role of Mrs. Wilkinson, but also imbues in her a degree of strength and resilence. Sean Hayden is persuasive and compelling as Billy’s father, a man trying to provide for his family and hold it together during trying times.  Jon Martens, who plays Billy’s best friend, Michael, injects humor and an endearing goofiness into his portrayal.  He too is no slouch on the dance floor.  Nick Silverio deserves special mention as the older Billy.  His duet with Liam Vincent Hutt in the “Dream Ballet” was awe-inspiring.

In the program notes, Director Gabriel Barre states the show is about “finding your purpose and summoning the courage necessary to follow your dreams and create your own destiny.”  This distillation of the plot is fully realized by Barre as he skillfully guides the sizeable cast on the small Goodspeed stage.  An impressive example is rendered during “Solidarity,” when the miners, police, Billy and the girls in his ballet class weave in and out from each other, confront, and dance.  The director keeps the emotional impact high and has added some well-placed flourishes that greatly enhance scenes such as adding a chorus of dancing girls in a dreamlike sequence to “Expressing Yourself.” 
The cast of Billy Elliot, playing through November 24th. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.
Walt Spangler’s Scenic Design are impressive for their variety and size, which includes a very convincing miner’s elevator, a ramshackle dance studio, and even a giant Margaret Thatcher puppet.  Jen Shapiro’s Costume Designs are fittingly apropos for the environs.

Billy Elliot, a dazzling production, playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through November 24th.  Information and tickets are at

No comments: