Tuesday, April 10, 2012

review - Billy Elliot

at the performance I attended:
Billy = Ty Forhan
Michael = Cameron Clifford

Billy Elliot the Musical
book & lyrics by Lee Hall
music by Elton John
directed by Stephen Daldry
Pantages Theatre
through May 13

In 1984 when Northern English coal miners went on strike in defiance of Margaret Thatcher's announcement to dissolve the unions, there was little hope for the future. Prospects were dim for kids like Billy Elliot who would be expected to enter the family business like his dad and his dad before him and on down the family lineage. Within 10 years, there would be no jobs, and where would Billy go, what would he do? Fortunately, this 11 year-old had dreams that would perhaps take him far, if only he could defeat the tremendous odds and get his dad to agree to an audition in London for the Royal Academy - ballet. Since 2000, when the film Billy Elliot won the hearts of the entire world, there came a musical stage version - in 2005 on the West End and 2008 on Broadway, winning 10 Tony Awards. The stage version was as successful as the movie, mainly because the screenwriter Lee Hall and director Stephen Daldry stayed with the project. Billy Elliot has universal appeal for kids with artistic talent, and speaks to the young at heart in all of us. Finally Billy is in LA at the Pantages through May 13 only, with a sensational cast that will have you standing, cheering and singing its praises for years to come.

With few exceptions the book follows the same trek as the film, allowing Elton John's serviceable music to embellish certain parts of the story along the way. It is Hall's book that is powerful to the max, and in this scaled-down version - which Daldry called the best - a community of actors move the set pieces in and out, acting more like the community that they represent.
Four actors alternate the demanding role of Billy: Ty Forhan, Kylend Hetherington, Zach Manske and J.P. Viernes. I can only judge Forhan, and he is outstanding as is Cameron Clifford as Michael, also shared with Jacob Zelonky. Michael, who dresses up in women's clothes, called a poof by all around him, is an expressive role to say the least and Clifford is precious in his portrayal. Forhan as Billy is a true triple threat: acting, singing and dancing at the top of his 11 year-old form. Rich Hebert as Billy's dad brings great sensitivity to the man, who does a lot of barking but underneath possesses a heart of gold. Patti Perkins is endearing as Grandma. Talk about an individual! She reminisces fondly about her party girl days with and without grandpa and champions Billy's decision to leave. Leah Hocking is just marvelous as Mrs. Wilkinson, the dance teacher, who, although trapped and unhappy, gives her all, nurturing true talent to pursue the path she missed. Also standouts are Cullen R. Titmas as stubborn brother Tony, Joel Blum, comically wonderful as the boxing coach George, and Job Christenson as goofy, funny Mr. Braithwaite. The entire ensemble are to be commended, as are Peter Darling for his astounding choreography - the dreamlike "We'd Go Dancing" is wondrous, Daldry for his brilliant direction, Ian MacNeil for his perfectly dingy set, Nicky Gillibrand for appropriate costumes and especially Rick Fisher for his expert lighting design, which makes you feel part of the dismal time and place. Elton John's score is bright and serves the piece well, although there is not one hummable tune. Lee Hall's lyrics and book and Stephen Daldry's direction are indeed flawless.
Grandma's "We'd Go Dancing"

See Billy Elliot The Musical at all costs, whether you must beg, borrow or steal for tickets! It's an incomparable show, whose story of love, unstoppable dreams and positive thinking will stay with you forever. Keep thinking "Solidarity", "Electricity"!

5 out of 5 stars

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