Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Also see John's review of Kinky Boots
Set in the coal-mining town of County Durham in North Eastern England, the plot revolves around a motherless 12-year-old Billy, who trades his boxing gloves for ballet shoes. The story of his pain at the loss of his mother, and his struggle for acceptance by his father is balanced against the community strife caused by the UK miners' strike of 1984-1985, and the very real dangers of massive unemployment and poverty.
A live, nine-piece orchestra plays the score very well, from ballet music to rousing songs like "Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher." A simple set represents the kitchen of Billy's home, a dance studio, a bar, and the outside of a factory. We are given splashes of color in the dance clothes worn by the dance school students, but other than that, all is accordingly pretty drab.
Shane Treloar delivers a scene-stealing performance as Billy's dress-wearing friend Michael, urging him to find his own way in the crowd-pleasing duet "Express Yourself." Elizabeth Dimon is gruffly charming as Billy's forgetful Grandma, especially in the song "We'd Go Dancing." Leslie Becker is wonderful as Billy's dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson. Though generally brusque and direct, her kindliness shines through enough to brighten Billy's life. The young girls playing Billy's fellow dance school students are thoroughly entertaining, particularly when matched with the testosterone-laden performances of men portraying coal miners. The two mashed together in the song "Solidarity" is one of my favorite moments of the show.
This musical would frankly fall flat if not centered around an actor of considerable talent and stature placed in the title rolethe technical dance skills required are demanding enough for an actor in his early teens, especially as it is ballet rather than musical theatre. Though the singing requirements are not overly difficult, the acting moments require an emotional maturity not commonly found in an actor that age, even in a straight play. Young, Chicago-based Nicholas Dantes is a revelation in this role. Certainly, his dancing is at a level beyond his years, and the show is about Billy's dancing. More importantly, Dantes shows an understanding of the motivating emotions behind his dancing, and surprising subtlety in conveying those emotions. It is a rarity to find a script that hangs its hat on the talents of a lead actor who is so young. If you're thinking "What about Annie?," I would have to say that the script of Billy Elliot is far less balanced in terms of distribution of stage time and focal point moments. The Maltz is lucky indeed to have found Dantes for this pivotal role, as his remarkable performance sets the bar for the high standards of the rest of the cast.
Billy Elliot the Musical will be appearing at Maltz Jupiter Theatre through December 20, 2015. Maltz Jupiter Theatre is located at 1001 Indiantown Rd. (just off of A1A) in Jupiter, Florida. For tickets and complete information on the theatre's offerings, contact them by phone at 561/ 575-2223, or 800/ 445-1666, 800/ 445-1666 FREE, and online at www.jupitertheatre.org.
*Designates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
^Designates a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, an independent national labor union.
+Designates member of the United Scenic Artists, a labor union and professional association of Designers, Artists and Craftspeople.