Monday, September 26, 2011

Theatre Review: Billy Elliot

Last month, I attended Billy Elliot at the Canon theatre with three amazing girlfriends. We got dolled up, we spent the night at the theatre and then went for a nice dinner.

It was refreshing.

The plot of Billy Elliot will be familiar to many due to the success of the Academy Award nominated film starring Jamie Bell.  Here, the structure is very much the same: during the union miner’s strikes of the mid-1980s, a young lad caught in the midst of turbulent violent riots finds escape when he tumbles into a girls’ dance class.  Billy stays late after boxing one week, is immediately pressed into dance by an outgoing teacher and continues to find a side of himself he never knew he had.

This graceful mode of expression greatly clashes with the hyper masculine world of abuse, pride and tough-as-nails grit that he sees in his role models: his father, brother and the other miners in the impoverished community.  The developing relationship between Billy and his widower father as well as his dad’s willingness to sacrifice his pride and way of life to cross the picket line and secure his son’s future was heart-breaking.

At stake is a way of life that the Thatcher government would shake forever. On a micro-level, so Billy’s somewhat foreign interest will force his father, brother and his community to embrace a form of art and expression previously unknown to them.

This emotionally potent story is told through the rock music of Elton John and through a physical landscape that marries a myriad of dance forms (from tap to break to ballet) against a highly –energized, gritty and sensual backdrop.   The clash of grace and grit, the physical embodiment of a kid’s lashings of anger against a system to which he is unwilling victim and the trip to the prim and proper National Ballet School were rendered realistic, poignant and driven by excellent choreography and an exceptional cast.

It is Billy’s show, as the eponymous lead, and the 12 year old actor who defined his role was required to throw himself wholly into his role.  This he did with aplomb.  It was fascinating and spell-binding to watch a kid so young with such prodigious talent.  Billy was not the only one: the supporting cast of kids, especially, was ripe with burgeoning talent.

Billy exceeded all expectations; but the show itself did not. Throughout the globe, this production has garnered numerous awards: Tonys and Oliviers, to name a few--- in Toronto the build-up to Billy's opening was highly anticipated and the cast and crew and long-running production have gleaned raves. That being said, Billy: the musical did not live quite up to the hype it was given.  The cast, as mentioned, was near flawless; the choreography extremely innovative,  but the music was not memorable and the book seemed to rip what must have been the biggest score moments of its film source.

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