LOVE LOVE LOVE this show!!! Last night, I saw BILLY ELLIOT the Tony Award-winning best musical at The Opera House and walked out utterly elated– and surprised! I had seen BILLY ELLIOT when it opened in London years ago–and wasn’t impressed, though I remember loving the exhilarating 2000 Universal Pictures movie about ballet and coal mining (yes, you read that correctly). Thus, I took my seat not expecting much– and witnessed one of the best productions I’ve seen all year, and one of the most inspiring musicals of my life.
BILLY ELLIOT is the story of a young boy growing up in a working class family in a tough British mining town. His mother has died, his grandmother is living in, and his father is about to go out on strike in the infamous 1984 coal miners’ strike. Billy is sent to the gym where he’s supposed to take boxing lessons, but somehow, thanks to a sharp-eyed, chain smoking, but sensitive ballet teacher (the glorious Janet Dickinson) he ends up in a ballet class amidst a sea of tutus.
Turns out Billy has a gift– and a love of ballet, and you can just imagine how that goes over with Billy’s hardscrabble family and friends who can barely put food on the table let alone “support the arts” and dancing lessons they fear might turn a young man into a “poofter.” The way this show intertwines Billy’s story and the story of the miners’ own struggle to be heard is a thing of beauty.
First, there’s the cast– I fell in love with every single one of them–especially the troupe of young dancers led by Kylend Hetherington as Billy in last night’s production. (Four different performers will rotate through the title role in the course of the run.) Fresh-faced, lanky, and deeply charismatic, Hetherington breaks your heart as he sings to his dead mother, finds his legs in dance class, takes care of his grandma, and tries to get through to his struggling father, warmly played by Quincy’s own Rich Hebert.
And speaking of Grandma, the magnificent Patti Perkins stops the show for the first the first time in a bravura solo called “We’d Go Dancing” that captures the romance and ruin of her life with a hard drinking miner; it’s a poignant snapshot of what Billy might expect if he stays. Then there’s the exuberantly talented, Cameron Clifford as Billy’s friend Michael who hasn’t yet emerged from his closet–which is mostly full of women’s clothes; he brings down the house in a number called “Expressing Yourself.”
The show is an ecstatic celebration of individuality expressed through dance… and what dancing! In yet another showstopping number called “Solidarity,” Elton John’s deeply melodic score and Peter Darling’s extraordinary choreography integrates ballet, tap, jazz, gymnastics and even folk dancing, with the miners and Billy and the ballet school, all on stage at the same time, dancing separately yet together, unique and universal, their steps interlocking in one big production number. Suddenly, we see the physical, emotional and spiritual possibilities of very different people coming together, on the same plane, in the same world. It’s a brilliant synthesis of theme and execution.
The show is about the universal need to be who you are, and discovering your humanity by respecting that need in the other guy. In the words of one of the show’s signature songs, all you’ve got to do is “shine.” The light of this show took me all the way home last night. I’m still beaming.
Don’t miss BILLY ELLIOT at the BOSTON OPERA HOUSE presented by Broadway In Boston through August 19th!