Billy Elliot – The Musical

Billy Elliot – The Musical

Billy 2

Book & Lyrics by Lee Hall
Music by Elton John
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Choreographed by Peter Darling
Musical direction by Colin Wellford
Performed by Kate Hennig, Cynthia Darlow, Armand Schultz, Patrick Mulvey et al.
Canon Theatre, Toronto
Previews: February 1, 2011; Opens: March 1, 2011
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Note: this review was written on the first preview performance.

Coal Miners in Tutus

Billy Elliot – The Musical, now at Toronto’s Canon Theatre, is the must-see musical for 2011. I usually wait for opening night to write a review, but I was in Toronto and decided to see the show on the first night of previews. I had heard so much about it and I couldn’t wait to see it. The preview certainly appeared to be flawless, and I thoroughly enjoyed this amazing, riveting production.

The story is set against the coal miners’ strike of 1984-85 in northern England near the border of Scotland. The characters speak Geordie, a dialect that combines both accents, and their use of language immediately captures the audience. At once, we get the sense of the one-employer town and the coal mine means everything in this community. With the strike comes a feeling of desperation.

Billy at age 11, has already lost his mother to illness. His older brother Tony and father are both miners, and take picketing very seriously. Billy spends time with his grandmother who lives with them and suffers dementia. He gets a small amount of money to learn boxing at the local community centre.

But it’s the girls’ ballet class after boxing that captures his interest. He catches the eye of the jaded ballet teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson. Despite his father’s orders not to attend ballet class and his brother’s teasing, Billy gets special attention from the crusty Mrs. Wilkinson, as she prepares him to audition for the National Ballet School. Eventually, the father comes to realize that there is no future for Billy in their coal mining community and he might as well get out – if ballet is his vehicle, and he loves it, then so be it.

This musical deftly blends the dreary life in this bleak town with Billy’s idealized vision for his future. Their harsh reality is tempered by Billy’s beautiful dream dance, and his friend, Michael’s, sense of humour. While Billy declares that he is not a “poof”, Michael, who likes to wear his sister’s clothes, comes out in “Expressing Yourself” with giant dancing dresses.

There are four boys who alternate playing the part of Billy. I saw 14-year-old Cesar Corrales of Montreal perform – he had the part of Billy in Chicago, before coming home to Canada. Cesar is amazing in this demanding role – dancing ballet and tap, singing, and breaking our hearts when he talks to his mother’s spirit. The other Billys (Myles Erlick, Marcus Pei, J.P. Viernes) also appeared in the Chicago production.

Before taking on the role of Billy, boys attend the challenging Billy Elliot school. With the musical having long runs in London’s West End, Broadway, Australia, U.S. tour, and now Toronto, schools were established in England and New York to provide a fresh supply of young Billys. Once the boys’ voices change, they have to leave the role.

Canadian Kate Hennig came home from Broadway to continue her role as Mrs. Wilkinson. She is excellent as the burned-out ballet teacher, portraying the cynical attitude but also showing kindness towards Billy in her own way.

Cynthia Darlow is delightful as the aging grandma, drifting in and out of reality. Her dance scene is charming, as she relives her younger days.

Armand Schultz as Dad and Patrick Mulvey as Tony are both good at showing the anguish of the strike, and their anxiety for their future and Billy’s.

Dillon Stevens is perfect as Billy’s best friend Michael, the young cross-dresser. Despite his youth, he demonstrates excellent comedic timing. He trades off with Jack Broderick for this role.

The music was created by Elton John, with the script and lyrics by Lee Hall. The story is brilliantly written. Just as we are dragged down into the miserable, drab coal mining town with the picket lines, scabs and cops, we’re brought back with comic relief – in the witty dialogue between the two boys, the grandmother’s funny revelations or the hilarious Maggie Thatcher puppets. And then of course, there’s those tap-dancing miners wearing their ballet tutus over their overalls in the finale!

It’s an amazing, uplifting presentation – lively music, many laughs throughout, and a poignant, heart-warming tale. It’s also a show that an entire family could enjoy together, complete with a lesson in history, politics and acceptance.

For tickets, call TicketKing 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or go to www.mirvish.com

NEWSLETTER

Sign up here if you would like to receive notice when news, reviews, and musings are posted. You can unsubscribe at any time.