Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Billy Elliot the Musical
Goodspeed Musicals
Review by Zander Opper | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's review of Ragtime and Shear Madness and Fred's review of Quixote Nuevo


Michelle Aravena, Liam Vincent Hutt and Cast
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Goodspeed Musicals is presenting an extraordinary production of the Lee Hall-Elton John musical, Billy Elliot. Set in England, during a miners' strike in the mid-1980s, the show details the title character's escape and possible future through becoming a ballet dancer. A dance-heavy show, director Gabriel Barre and choreographer Marc Kimelman have wisely decided to create an entirely new staging, which manages to capture the spirit and drive of the original London and Broadway productions without being a replication. They succeed mightily and the production has been cast very well, with stunning performances by Liam Vincent Hutt as the title character, and Michelle Aravena in the crucial supporting role of dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson. (It should be noted that Taven Blanke also plays Billy Elliot at alternate performances.)

Some of the most effective moments are the full-company numbers, which spill right out into the aisles of the theatre. The scenic design by Walt Spangler is spectacular and feels authentic. Barre keeps the show moving at a good pace, and has made sure that all of the critical scenes are fully spotlighted. Billy Elliot has always been a significant and moving musical, and Goodspeed is presenting it in an impressive production.

Without a strong actor in the title role, the show would never begin to work, and Liam Vincent Hutt is a sensation in the part, with his acting talents and dance skills awesomely displayed. He is both unassuming and larger-than-life, as the role demands. The most showstopping song in Billy Elliot is "Electricity," where Billy is able to convey, thrillingly, both in word and movement, what ballet truly means to him.

Mrs. Wilkinson discovers Billy's talent at ballet and nurtures it, and Michelle Aravena shows an ability to make the part seem even bigger than it is. Dressed in period-perfect leotards and dance clothes (the terrific costumes are designed by Jen Caprio), Aravena stands out in her every scene, especially the one where she confronts Billy's father and family to champion the boy auditioning for the Royal Ballet. This teacher is something of a mother-figure in Billy's life, and some of Aravena's scenes with young Hutt are truly touching.

As Billy's real mother, in spirit, Rachel Rhodes-Devey is a ghost-like figure who lingers in the periphery of the scenes, entering the action at key moments, especially during the song, "The Letter." Rhodes-Devey sings beautifully and she has an almost otherworldly presence. In other roles, Sean Hayden is excellent as Billy's Dad, as he believably makes the transition from being against Billy dancing to realizing that his son has a gift, one that may be the boy's escape from the mining town where the family lives. Barbara Marineau is a delight as Billy's Grandma and Gabriel Sidney Brown is suitably tough, as he must be, as Billy's older brother Tony. Also fantastic is Jon Martens as Michael. He and Hutt share the exciting and colorful number, "Expressing Yourself."

Marc Kimelman's choreography is fabulous and intricate, with a number of outstanding dance sequences. The masterful music director is Michael O'Flaherty, and he and the pit orchestra make Elton John's score sound as compelling as ever. There is also fine work from lighting designer Jason Kantrowitz, and dialect coach Jennifer Scapetis-Tycer deserves a shout-out for making the entire company of performers sound authentically British.

Goodspeed Musical's production of Billy Elliot the Musical is a major achievement and should even please theatergoers who saw the original production.

Billy Elliot runs through November 24, 2019, at Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main Street, East Haddam CT. For tickets and information, please visit www.goodspeed.org or call the box office at 860-873-8668.


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