BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL Festival Theatre/Stratford Festival
By Augustine Warner
ďBilly Elliot The MusicalĒ is about a lot of things.
However, before you get to the story, you have to recognize the key to a wonderful production at the Stratford Festival is the decision to make Donna Feore director and choreographer, a decision undoubtedly made by Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino.
If you are going to stage a show about a kid from a small English village involved in a bitter labor strike in the dying coal industry, you might as well put the show in command of a dancer from a dying softwood lumber industry in a corner of British Columbia, who has built a career in one of the premier showplaces in North America.
There is a sensibility in the show to a time and a place, when coal miners lose a year-long strike to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a clash between a militant left-wing minerís union and the militant right-wing prime minister.
What Feore does is meld the story of the minersí village with an 11-year-old, Billy Elliot (Nolen Dubuc), who discovers all he wants to do is dance.
Billy is growing up in a family which has lost his mother (Vanessa Sears), has a father struggling to keep it all together (Dan Chameroy), with an older brother who is a miner and a bully (Scott Beaudin) and a grandmother who is losing it all (Marion Adler).
In this town, Billy and friends are sent off to a community hall to learn boxing and learns he hates it and accidentally discovers Mrs. Wilkinsonís (Blythe Wilson) ballet class in the same place.
With the first movements, Billy is hooked.
Billyís Dad Jackie is too distracted by the strike to realize anything is different with his son.
Mrs. Wilkinson realizes this kid has something she has never seen before and arranges an audition with the Royal Balletís regional visit to nearby Newcastle, looking for young dancers, an audition scuppered by a giant brawl between the striking miners and Thatcherís militant police.
The ballet plans fall apart because of Dadís opposition and Billy discovers his life-long best friend Michael (Emerson Gamble) is both supportive of the ballet dreams and is a cross-dressing 11-year-old ďpoof.Ē
Dad breaks down and goes to Mrs. Wilkinson to seek guidance and she discovers an audition possibility at the Royal Ballet in London.
Just as Dad has to strike break to get the money for the family to survive, the strikers kick in the money to get him to the audition.
Thatcher breaks the strike and Billy gets the letter saying heís been admitted to the ballet school and will leave a life and a society behind.
Itís a touching story (Itís all based on the movie.), a great cast, one of the most amazing sets I ever remember at Stratford, from Michael Gianfrancesco, and an utterly amazing Billy.
Over the years, Iíve seen a lot of good or even great dancers, hereís weíre seeing a kid around Billy Elliotís age who holds his own with a dynamite cast of adult dancers (and a few kids).
This production works because Dubuc is so good.
Besides Dubuc, there is some amazing dancing from Wilson, Colton Curtis as Older Billy in a Peter Pan pairing with Dubuc, and company numbers with the miners, the cops and the Dancing Dresses.
Feore shows what the right combination can lead to.
The entire show is sort of a combination, the movie on which itís all based and the stage script with a book and lyrics from Lee Hall and the music from Elton John, who can certainly identify with many of the issues and segments of the play (and lives not far down the road in Toronto).
ďBilly Elliot The MusicalĒ is worth the trip to Stratford just for this show, although there are plenty of others on stage.
There might be a few words in the script you donít know your kids already know.
Everyone has dreams.
Here, Billy is taking that first step up the ladder, from a second-rate dancing school in a corner of the English Midlands toward one of the premier stages in the world, with the Royal Ballet.
If you really donít want to see the show, find the movie, and then see the show on stage.
Itís one of the best around.
See ďBilly Elliott The Musical.Ē
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