Written by: Stephen Ahearn, Special to CC2K
When I heard I was going to London for work the very first thing I thought of was getting tickets to see Billy Elliot. I LOVED the movie and had heard nothing but great things about the stage show.
I went into the show with a little trepidation. I don't really like Elton John and a composer for the theater. I saw AIDA and didn't think it lived up to the hype, and Lestat…well Lestat wasn't coined LeCrap for nothing. I think Mr. John should stay to pop music. His scores for the theater seem too pop centric and with the American Idolization of Broadway I fear the American Musical Theater is taking a turn for worse. I think people should sound more like Barbara Cook and less like Britney Spears.
Billy Elliot follows more of the British happenings on the 1980s, where the movie uses them as filler plot points. The miners strike plays a pivotal plot line, as well as Margaret Thatcher's government years. The actors speak with a THICK British accent and all the Americans in my group were left wondering what they were saying on stage about 1/3 the time. Many of the references, and jokes were lost on us as well. In the program they even have a translation section as to what some of the British slang terms are. I specifically ordered my ticket for the end of my 10 day trip hoping that the first 9 days I was in London would help my ear adjust to the accent. It helped a little bit but not nearly enough. The show is moving across the pond to Broadway in the 2008 season, and I will be very interested to see how, or if they "American-ize" it.
Jackie Clune as Mrs. Wilkinson, the role created by the delicious Julie Walters in the movie, was a revelation! It's hard to believe that she was the replacement. She looked born to play that role. She has this dry, rigid, demeanor but you can tell she has a heart of gold and will do anything for her students. It isn't until Billy wanders into her room that she sees someone with potential and demands more of him than anyone else. She is fantastic and I hope to see her in future shows.
The role of Billy is played by 5 different young boys. The night I saw it the role of Billy was being played by Sam Angell, a blonde, cherubic boy of 13 who doesn't quite have the dance training the role requires, but makes up for it with his great acting choices. His voice was a little wary at times. I have the feeling that puberty is starting to set it and what he could sing comfortably 6 months ago now is struggling through. He carries the show, and for someone who is only 13 does a superb job!! He has a very strong career ahead of him if he chooses to. Get him into some dance, voice, and acting classes and he's poised to be a triple-threat.
The supporting cast truly delivers. I saw David Bardsley perform the role of Billy's Dad and he was fantastic! His rendition of "Deep Into the Ground" was touching, heartfelt, and soulful. He got one of the biggest applauses at the curtain call and it was very well deserved. Ann Emery stole every seen she was in as Billy's Grandmother. She has got to be in her late 70s or early 80s and she can still dance and move around that stage like someone 30 years her junior. She's a spit fire and was truly a delight to watch. Chris Lennon as Tony was superb in Act One, but seemed to scream all of his lines in Act Two and became a one-dimensional character.
The musical staging by Peter Darling was superb. In "Solidarity" there is a fantastic blend of choreography between the miners and the girls in the ballet school. Whether it was the girls in the ballet school, the boys in boxing class, the miners, or Billy showing his fear/frustration/elation in "Angry Dance" Mr. Darling is able to portray each of the characters emotions perfectly. The set by Ian Macneil was an interchanging walls with set pieces stored behind them being pushed off and on stage by the actors. It was very clever watching them do that as they sung and dance.
Although I do prefer the movie over the musical I had a wonderful night at the theater. I eagerly anticipate the show moving to Broadway in October.
The Victoria Palace Theatre
London SW1E 5EA
249 W 45th Street
(between Broadway and 8th)
New York, NY 10036