Billy Elliot The Musical:
A Perfect Blend of Laughter and Tears
From laughing out loud at hilarious instances, to tears flowing in heartbreaking moments, the audience at Stratford Festival’s Billy Elliot The Musical is taken on an emotional ride through a little mining town in northern England to the big city of London.
Billy Elliot is a riveting story told in the 2000 British movie, and later in the musical which first appeared on stage in London’s West End in 2005.
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, by age 11, has already lost his mother to illness. His older brother Tony and his father are both miners, and take picketing very seriously. Billy spends time with his grandmother who lives with them and suffers from 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 disgust, Billy gets special attention from the tough Mrs. Wilkinson, as she prepares him to audition for the National Ballet School. Eventually, his 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.
Young Nolen Dubuc is amazing in the role of little Billy. At only 11 years of age himself, he carries the show, appearing in almost every scene, singing, dancing, and delivering his lines perfectly. His standing ovation on opening night was loud and long.
Dubuc literally soars in the show. In one scene, he dreams of his future and sees his older self dancing, as he flies overhead. In the duet dance, Dubuc and Coltin Curtis, who plays Older Billy, are absolutely beautiful together.
In the song “Expressing Yourself”, Billy shows the fun that can be had with dance. His best friend Michael is trying on his sister’s dresses, and Billy joins in. Michael’s portrayal is fabulous, played by Emerson Gamble, and the two boys do an excellent tap dance number together. Giant dancing dressmakers’ dummies add to the fun.
Billy’s “Angry Dance” is a gut-wrenching display of energy after his father has banned him from ballet.
Dan Chameroy plays Jackie, who is Billy and Tony’s father. He is dealing with the loss of his wife and the potential loss of his work in the coal mines. He juggles his argumentative son Tony, a mother–in-law with dementia, and now little Billy wants to be a ballet dancer, something unheard of in a mining town. Chameroy gives a powerful portrayal of this troubled man.
Blyth Wilson adds comedy as the dance teacher with attitude. With a cigarette dangling from her mouth and the tart language she deals out to her little ballerinas, Wilson becomes an unlikely surrogate mom to Billy. Later as she reads the letter Billy’s mother wrote him just before her death, Wilson allows the character to let the audience feel the heartbreak.
Marion Adler as the grandmother who is losing track of reality adds comic relief. Stratford favourite Steve Ross as George who dresses as the hated Margaret Thatcher at the union’s Christmas party also garners laughs. As well, Matthew G. Brown as Mr. Braithwaite, the accompanist and assistant to the dance teacher, creates much needed humour in the depressing times.
Vanessa Sears plays the dead mother who returns in Billy’s mind. Her heartfelt song “The Letter” is chokingly sad, and Sears makes sure there isn’t a dry eye in the house.
The ensemble is powerful – whether they are miners, strikers, scabs, or riot police, they fill the thrust stage with energy. The little ballerinas contrast the testosterone of the miners and cops.
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 giant heads of politicians. And then of course, there are those dancing miners and cops wearing their ballet tutus over their coveralls and uniforms in the finale!
It’s an amazing, uplifting presentation – lively music, many laughs throughout, and a poignant, heart-warming tale. If you’re not concerned about your kids hearing the f-bomb used repeatedly, it’s also a show that an entire family can enjoy together. It comes complete with lessons important for all ages – in history, politics, acceptance, and individuality.
Billy Elliot The Musical continues in repertory until November 24 (extended) at the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: Right: Nolen Dubuc (left) as Billy Elliot and Colton Curtis as Older Billy. Left: Dan Chameroy (left) as Billy’s Dad and Nolen Dubuc as Billy Elliot. Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Billy Elliot The Musical – 2019
Book and Lyrics by Lee Hall
Music by Elton John
Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore
Musical Director Franklin Brasz
Performed by Nolen Dubuc, Dan Chameroy, Blythe Wilson, Scott Beaudin, Emerson Gamble, Marion Adler, Vanessa Sears, Steve Ross, Matthew G. Brown, Mark Harapiak, Colton Curtis, et al.
Festival Theatre, Stratford
May 30 to November 3, 2019 (Now extended to Nov. 24)
Reviewed by Mary Alderson