Slick Billy Elliot Is Choreographed Bliss
Daniel Russell (airborne), one of the actors playing the title role in Billy Elliot
Courtesy of Broadway Across America
The Setup: For a show set in the rough-and-tumble mining fields of northern England, this inspirational musical, adapted from Stephen Daldry and Lee Hall's international hit movie, is the slickest thing imaginable -- and won 10 Tony awards to prove it.
The Execution: The entire show dances, from the set to the exceptional lyrics by Lee Hall, the film's original screenwriter. Of course, designer Ian MacNeil's slinky Mylar walls and a lit-up proscenium arch wouldn't mean anything without a heartwarming story, and this is the simple tale of talented Billy (preternaturally gifted Daniel Russell, the night we saw the show) stuck in an inhospitable milieu. Via blowsy Mrs. Wilkinson (past Tony winner Faith Prince), a faded dance teacher in the mining town, young Billy discovers his penchant to move -- almost his compulsion.
Billy's wanting to be a ballet dancer is extraordinarily courageous, considering that he lives among macho miners -- Dad (Rich Hebert) and brother Tony (Jeff Kready) -- along with dotty Grandma (Patti Perkins). Everyone's on strike and broke, with testosterone running rampant. Billy keeps at it, through Wilkerson's prickly encouragement and the invaluable friendship of gay-in-training Michael (Griffin Birney, who gets a drag showstopper in "Expressing Yourself"). The musical ricochets between home, studio and picket line, devilishly combining all three in the stunning "Solidarity." Choreographer Peter Darling's dance narrative is freakishly brilliant, as gruff miners, little ballet girls and policemen out for blood collide in rare choreographic bliss that rivals any number by old Broadway masters Jerome Robbins or Gower Champion. Elton John's luminous score embroiders whiffs of English-countryside anthems and emotion-laden ballads (one too many, though, as visiting ghost of Mom refuses to go away). Russell explodes in "Angry Dance" showing the full fury of all Billy's frustrations, and "Electricity," his ode to why he must dance.
The Verdict: It's quite a production, real and true. The show soars, as will your heart.
(Through March 13. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby, 713-558-8887.)
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