Billy Elliot opened at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta Tuesday night to a warm reception that only Southern’s could give.
Billy Elliot opened at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta Tuesday night to a warm reception that only Southern’s could give. The musical adapted from the 2000 film by the same name features music by Elton John and a book and lyrics by Lee Hall. Billy Elliot throws us into a time warp, transporting us back to the mid-1980s as a small mining town in northern England fights for its life against the winds of change. The community is embroiled in the UK miner’s strike which strung on for almost two years. We watch as the struggle takes its inevitable toll on the township’s morale. The anti-Margaret Thatcher sentiment is boiling over the rim as the general hopelessness of their situation slowly consumes the town. Then comes the dreams of a boy named Billy Elliot.
Billy (J.P. Viernes) was just your normal boy; taking boxing lessons, messing about with his pals, but it was clear from the early goings that his talents lay elsewhere. As he hangs back from boxing practice one day, he gets roped into participating in the girl’s ballet class. Though awkward at first, the dance just comes naturally to him like a fish taking to water. Being the son of a tough, grizzled miner I’d imagine he probably wishes that talent didn’t slither so easily out of him. So Billy starts skipping boxing lessons to take ballet on the sly. Of course it’s not long before word of his son’s pirouetting ways makes its way back to dad (Rich Hebert) and, talent be damned, dad’s going to put a stop to this puff nonsense.
Billy Elliot debuted to much acclaim and fanfare on the West End in 2005 then made its way across the pond, anchoring on Broadway in 2008. It won four Oliver Awards, ten Tonys and an equal amount of Drama Desk Awards. It has branched out to international locales and spawned two national touring companies. This is an English import so the accents are ever present so be prepared to adjust your ears. Also just because Elton John is handling the music doesn’t mean you are going to hear “Rocket Man” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” This isn’t Mamma Mia so come into this with your expectations set properly.
On the surface, Billy Elliot is basically Broadway meets the ballet. The acting and choreography are very solid throughout. It’s impressive a boy so young is so accomplished in ballet. We get carried on this unlikely journey, pining for this dream that looks like it’s going to get snuffed out at every turn. We become invested in this dream and watching Billy dance his way to it. One of the surprising things about this musical was how funny it was. Billy’s friend Michael (Cameron Clifford) is a budding cross dresser and is an absolute riot whenever he is on the stage. Billy better watch it. Michael just might steal the show from him.
Mrs. Wilkinson (Leah Hocking) is also a real gem as Billy’s ballet teacher. She is a spark plug who fights for Billy against his father and anyone who would get in the way of the young boy’s dream. She also serves as a mother figure for him as Billy’s mother has died in the years prior.
I have to say the most interesting part of this story in my mind was the town. This decaying mining town was desperately holding onto how life had always been and fighting the inevitable change that stared them down at every turn. It hits home given the state of our weak economy and the failing cities dotting the rust belt. Billy’s dream gives them a strange hope and vitality that you wouldn’t think to connect with a community of macho men. Creative license no doubt but its a nice touch all the same.
Overall, Billy Elliot was quite enjoyable. I can say it is definitely targeted to the gay male demographic as well as women but anyone who enjoys musicals and can at least tolerate the ballet should be in good company here. It is a musical that is long on heart as well as time, clocking in at just under three hours. A few of the musical numbers could have been trimmed without degrading the story. For those looking to bring younger kids, the language is on the PG side of things and possibly even more restrictive depending on your particular slant so be aware. Otherwise enjoy this tale of a boy chasing this unlikely dream as Billy Elliot plays Atlanta’s Fox Theatre through Sunday, March 18. Tickets are currently available through Broadway Across America.
Author: Mark Runyon