Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Billy Elliot The Musical
Also see David's review of The Santaland Diaries
Billy Elliot The Musical is everything the critics and audiences have said and much, much more. The touring production, which has just opened in Cleveland, Ohio, has filled the Palace Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, to its rafters.
A good play or movie has a background that helps motivate the action. The background of Billy Elliot The Musical is a coal strike in County Durham, Northern England, 1984-1985. The men in Billy Elliot's family mine coal. As the strike drags on, they have little money, and morale has reached a low point. Billy hasn't been taking his boxing lessons. He has discovered the local ballet class and pays for the dance lessons with his boxing money.
Mrs. Wilkinson (Faith Prince), the dance teacher, recognizes Billy's talent and encourages him to apply for admission to a prestigious dance school. Of course, Billy's family doesn't approvehe would be leaving home and forever would be different than the other members of his family. Yet, they suspect he needs to leave County Durham in order to find any type of career other than coal mining, which is a dying industry in England.
The touring production features five young men as Billy Elliot. Giuseppe Bausilio played Billy at the performance I attended. However, from the comments of friends who have seen other actors as Billy, I would conclude that the five actors playing Billy in Cleveland are likely to be equally strong in dance, singing and acting.
One might wonder why this one character is played by a different actor in a three or five performance rotation. The answer is simple: Billy is on stage for most of the performance, which is almost three hours. Billy is involved in gigantic dance numbers, numerous songs and, of course, has significant acting responsibilities as the title character. It's a lot of work for a teenager or for a mature adult.
Faith Prince, the Tony-Award winning actress, makes Mrs. Wilkinson kind, compassionate and tough as nails.
Touring shows such as Billy Elliot The Musical now carry the same sophisticated sets as were used on Broadway. The sets for this production underscore the poverty of the coal miner's families. However, this is still a show about dance. The sets are large, sparse and provide plenty of room for the dancers. In one scene the police and miners attack each other, and the set provides ample space for the dance that represents this confrontation.
In another scene Billy (the child) dances with Billy (the man) (Maximilien A. Baud). As Baud lifts the actor dancing Billy, Billy flies (in Peter Pan-style) through the upper regions of the stage. This stunning number brought gasps from the children in the audience and from some of the adults. This number almost stops the show.
Legend has it that Elton John, who wrote the music, had to be taken from the theater in tears after seeing Billy Elliot The Movie. He identified with the Billy character so strongly that he was incapacitated. John has created stage-worthy music for the show. The music represents a pleasant variety that maintains the integrity of the story. Lee Hall (book and lyrics) also wrote the screenplay for Billy Elliot The Movie.
Some unthinking folks left the Palace Theatre the moment the curtain call started. They missed the big number the cast performs for the curtain call. I can't imagine that being first to get the car out of the parking lot and get out on the streets of Cleveland is worth missing one of the high points of the production. But, who knows what these people have on their calendars.
Billy Elliot The Musical continues through December 12, 2010, in the Palace Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, Cleveland. For ticket information, telephone 216-830-7221. After the show closes in Cleveland, it will move to Minneapolis, Charlotte, Tampa and on to other cities. Visit www.billyelliottour.com for more information on the tour.
The Palace Theatre
- David Ritchey