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Billy Elliot The Musical

Billy Elliot has won the Olivier award for Best New Musical. See it at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London, across the street from the Apollo Victoria where Wicked will be playing.

Billy Elliot Review

By Gerry Sloan (2005)

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Billy Elliot The Musical, is based on the smash hit movie of the same name that surprisingly conquered the world with its strong themes of family, loyalty, following your heart and breaking free of conventions. The movie is now an all singing, all dancing, all swearing musical sensation that many critics are using as a flag to signal the re-emergence of Britain as a musical theatre force. Billy Elliot is not quite the classic musical it is being portrayed as, there is much to admire but its flaws are apparent and whether it storms the worlds stages with its view of Thatcher's Britain remains to be seen. If you don't leave the theatre moved by the story and its knock our performances your heart is made of glass. This is a real fairytale with an uplifting ending that sends audiences out with tear filled eyes and huge grins.

The story surrounds young Billy Elliott's accidental triumph at ballet when he is late for his boxing class and is persuaded to stay and be taught the dance by Mrs Wilkinson. She hits on the idea of sending him to audition for The Royal Ballet School which his father is against but then comes to accept. Through out the evening the themes of the dreadful miners strike in the eighties, the mourning of Billy's mother and the struggle by his family to accept that Billy will not work down a coal mine but has the potential to transcend his own class and circumstances are core to the shows success.

Billy Elliott will be remembered for offering its young principals an audience grabbing, star performance. The central role is rotated through three boys and each brings their own characteristics to the role who won the chance to wow Londoners after a nationwide talent search. With talent like this we have no need to worry about our stars for tomorrow. On the night I attended Liam Mower as Billy danced superbly (almost breathtakingly), acted the rest of the cast off the stage and won a well deserved standing ovations (it takes a lot to get the Brits out of their seats). However, he has sterling support from Hayden Gwynne as the down trodden dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson who finds new hope in Billy's triumph both funny and touching it's a welcome return to form for Hayden. Tim Healy is terrific as Billy's Dad who learns acceptance through his son whilst struggling with the death of his beloved wife. Mention should also be made of Ann Emery as Billy's Nan both dispensing dotty advice and the family history throughout the show. The supporting cast are all strong and for a dance musical come in all shapes and sizes giving the show a gritty, real chorus that switch from being down trodden miners to sarcastic, bullying policeman in a beat.

The music by Elton John is strong but fails to make much of an impression on a first hearing. However, the songs Electricity (sensationally danced), Shine (featuring a corpse of young ballerinas turning into a Busby Berkley show stopper) and Expressing Yourself (you need to see it), are real treats.

The design by Ian McNeil is relatively simple with retractable houses, backdrops and a central revolving platform that pops up from under the stage with Billy's Bed whirling upwards to the sky. There are also nods towards spectacle with curtains of light, feathers and puppets arising and disappearing unexpectedly. Watch those houses for when they start moving back the dancing begins. And what dancing! Peter Darlings fantastic choreography blends tap, ballet and modern dance infusing it into something original and daring. Liam Mower is given an all out show stopper with Electricity and the finale with its tap dancing miners and ballet girls is a sight to behold. This is not a show for traditional musical spectacle and is none the worse for that. Audiences won't feel cheated. it's a classy and innovative design.

All the elements have been blended smoothly by director Stephen Daldry who keeps the evening in continuous, fluid motion and offers many original staging devices including a line of aggressive policemen who Billy dances out his frustration against by hurling himself into their riot shields bringing the first Act curtain down on a cheering audience.

The show has a tremendous amount of heart, compassion, it is brutally funny and honest in its depiction of down trodden Britain. It speaks to its audience directly and Billy Elliot's triumph is echoed by anyone who ever wanted to follow their dreams. It will also probably inspire many other young dancers to take up the mantle as the young cast are clearly having a ball on stage.

However, there is still the nagging question that Billy Elliott is not quite all its cracked up to be. With the rotation of the principals on a second viewing the Billy performing wasn't quite as good. This is a killer role but central to its success. The score whilst perfectly adequate doesn't succeed in offering triumph or inspiration. A decade or so ago Blood Brothers achieved much the same trick and Billy at times feels like a more elaborate and expensive version of that show. The show also features very Northern dialect that may not travel well.

But is certainly deserves its chance at Broadway and the show is brimming with enough confidence to ensure its success more so than recent lesser original imports. It plays like a monster hit and audiences have embraced it.

For its flaws it must be looked at as an important new musical that wears its heart on its sleeve and lingers in the memory longer than many other new musicals. The tag line for the show is "Be Inspired", and for this Billy Elliott may have to reach for the stars and dance for its life but how fantastic to leave a theatre feeling better than when you went in. You may even be inspired to do a bit of ballet or tap dancing for yourself thanks to the story of a boy and a musical that succeeds when many others have failed.

Billy Elliot tickets:

Address Victoria Palace Theatre
Victoria Street

Recommended restuarant near by: ASK - Italian Cuisine - Location: 160/162 Victoria Street , London, SW1E 5LB

2 Disc Version


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