It takes three young men (David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish- who have been jointly nominated for a Tony Award as Best Actor in a Musical – note: Tommy Batchelor is a fourth Billy listed in the program ) to alternate in the title role of Billy Elliot, the smash hit musical at the Imperial Theatre.
Written by Lee Hall (book and lyrics – who also wrote the screenplay from which this musical is adapted) and Elton John (music – who first had the inspiration to turn the film into a musical). Stephen Daldry directed the film and is repeating his role here as is Peter Darling as choreographer of this enormous and ambitious production.
It has just been nominated for 15 Tony Awards, 10 Outer Critics Circle Awards, 10 Drama Desk Awards and is the winner of the Drama Critics Circle for Best Musical among other numerous citations, including a Special Achievement Award for all three boys by the Outer Critics Circle Executive Committee.
So it came as quite a shock to me that I was somewhat disappointed with this somewhat sentimental, somewhat predictable show. It’s the 1980’s and the coal miners are on strike battling the formidable Margaret Thatcher. Billy’s dad (a tough and bigoted Gregory Jbara) works in the mines and is disturbed that his younger son fancies ballet over boxing (Kiril Kulish). His activist older brother Tony (an excellent Santino Fontana) is contemptuous at the thought of his young brother’s desires. Billy is befriended by his forgetful grandmother (a quirky and amusing Carole Shelley) and his dance instructor who sees his inner talent that she helps develop and to arrange and audition for The Royal Ballet School (an excellent, chain smoking, lost out on her own life Mrs. Wilkinson – Haydn Gwynne). Her rehearsal pianist, Mr. Braithwaite (Thommie Retter) is a hoot.
The show juxtaposes both worlds to great effect – especially in “Solidarity” – with coal miners, policemen, and a gaggle of multi shaped and sized young girls in tutus sharing the stage. Some of the other songs are equally good – “Shine” “We’d Go Dancing” and “Born to Boogie” are exceptional. Other production numbers carry on a tad too long. Elton John’s score is extremely serviceable and tuneful and it is, of course, pure Elton John.
Billy is asked to act, to sing, to tap and to execute some rather difficult athletic ballet movements. Kiril Kulish succeeded in everything but he knows from the start that he is a terrific dancer – Billy shouldn’t. Perhaps it’s the coolness of his performance that I couldn’t connect totally with. His dream ballet with his older self (a sensational Stephen Hanna) to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake literally soars as young Billy with the help of an all too obviously hooked on cable becomes airborne. But it is exciting to see what a fantastic performer he is. His “Angry Dance” and “Electricity” are perfection.
As Billy’s friend, Michael, who likes to dress in his sisters clothing, David Bologna all but steals the thunder from Billy in “Expressing Yourself” – milking his applause shamelessly. He’s a delight.
The tale of a young boy whose dreams come true is an inspiration to all those who are dreaming of a better future and for those who perhaps have lost the dream along the way. It’s never too late, you know, and Billy Elliot stirs up the juices. It’s wonderful to see his family and community rallying to help him. Even his dead mum (a comforting Leah Hocking) makes an appearance in two touching letter scenes. So try to understand the strong accents, put up with the political puppets and gimmicky effects and go all out for the exciting, rip-roaring finale which will absolutely leave you breathlessly airborne on your way home.