Published Sunday, November 27, 2011, 12:53 PM
The touring production of the musical Billy Elliot has its final Philadelphia performances today at 1 PM and 6:30 PM at the Academy of Music.
Billy Elliot tells a story with a not-entirely-unfamiliar plotline: an unlikely individual from a blue-collar background has dreams of making it in the world of ballet. In this case, the story involves a (title-character) boy (Lex Ishimoto was the one of the four rotating Billy Elliots this reviewer saw) from the North England coal mining region in 1984, when the miners are involved in a general strike. Perhaps needless to say, ballet is not a “cool” activity for boys from that background to partake in.
(Warning: Plot details are given in the next three paragraphs.)
(Can’t help myself …) Early on, as the striking miners are basically crying silent tears full of pride. Billy is by accident introduced to ballet dancing, which for a while for him is nothing but a slow, glowing dream. Billy’s cross-dressing best friend Michael (Jacob Zelonky was the one of the two rotating Michaels this reviewer saw) makes Billy aware of the fear that seems to hide deep inside his mind. Michael leads Billy to take his passion and make it happen.
Eventually, after finding himself on a wire between will and what will be, there is a culmination of sorts in the solo number “Electricity.” With that number, Billy becomes a maniac on the floor, dancing like neither he nor anyone else in his immediate world has danced before. What a feeling Ishimoto brought to the performance this reviewer saw!
Incidentally, Michael also gains confidence through the course of the show. By the end, he is totally comfortable with his own homosexuality … perhaps ready to go on a “man hunt.” (And that will be it for Flashdance references…)
At various times, Billy Elliot is corny, with-an-agenda preachy (the cross-dressing and homosexuality aspects, although not quite as annoyingly blatantly as in, say, Avenue Q) and feckless when it tries to make political statements. (“Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher” is unlikely to convince anyone of anything, especially with Occupannoyances so currently visible.)
But to a considerably large extent, so what?
Musicals, for this reviewer, are pretty much about the singing/dancing numbers, and Billy Elliot, quite simply, has plenty of outstanding ones. The ones that particularly stuck with this reviewer are: “Shine,” “Born to Boogie” and the aforementioned “Electricity.”
Ishimoto does an outstanding job as the title character, in terms of singing and dancing (and, less significantly, acting). The cast as a whole is excellent, and, if anyone could be considered to “steal the show,” it certainly would be Ishimoto, or perhaps, on other nights, the other performers who play Billy.
(The way the show is written, for anyone else to “steal the show,” there would have to be a situation involving, say, an unbelievably spectacular performance by the actor playing Michael and a particularly lackluster performance by the actor playing Billy. … Not that Jewish Exponent reviewer Michael Elkin had bothered actually to see the relevant performances before passing and publishing his judgment that Zelonky as Michael “steals the show nightly.” … His article went to press before Billy Elliot arrived in Philadelphia. What a complete breach of professional standards, not to mention an insult to readers and performers.)
Perhaps Billy Elliot is not quite at the level of “classic musical” that The King and I (at the Walnut Street Theatre through Sunday, January 8) and Gypsy (running at the Bristol Riverside Theatre from Tuesday, December 6 through Sunday, January 15) are. But it is a lot of fun and certainly worth seeing.
From Philadelphia, the Billy Elliot tour next heads to Rochester, New York (November 29-December 11) and then Washington, DC (December 13-January 15). The stops scheduled for thereafter include Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Atlanta, Columbus, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Des Moines, Appleton, Louisville, Madison, Milwaukee and Boston.
Tickets can be purchased to those shows (and to other future shows on the tour) via this link.
Billy Elliot still is running on Broadway, at the Imperial Theater (249 West 45th Street), but the production there will be closing on Sunday, January 8 after a run of more than three years. Tickets to the Broadway production of Billy Elliot can be purchased via this link.
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