Billy Elliot Dazzles at the Ogunquit Playhouse (4.5 Stars)

‘Billy Elliot The Musical’ – Music by Elton John, Book and Lyrics by Lee Hall; Directed by BT McNicholl. At The Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main St, Route 1, Ogunquit Maine through July 26th.

‘Billy Elliot’ is that special kind of musical that manages to be powerfully touching without being corny. And the production now playing at The Ogunquit Playhouse is stunningly impressive in scale, cast, and originality.

Set against the 1984 miners’ strike in Yorkshire, Northern England, ‘Billy Elliot’ tells the tale of an eleven year old boy who stumbles out of his boxing lesson and into ballet class by accident, and discovers where his life’s passion lies. Along the bumpy road that follows, he must battle conventional notions of masculinity and how people react when those notions are threatened in both his community, and in his own family.

Anyone who has ever lost a parent, been a parent, or just been at odds with their family, will relate to this piece, and I think its worldwide success in both mediums speaks to this.

The 2008 Elton John/ Lee Hall musical (based on the 2000 movie) won numerous Tonys and continues to tour around the world, the yet the Ogunquit Playhouse gives this work a fresh look in this first rate production. The large scale set is impressive, with the ever looming mine that the workers toil in set against row houses and chimneys, creating a haunting silhouette of working class life in a mining town. The costumes for this version are original and add to the quality of the production.

The large cast is terrific, but Armand Shultz gives a particularly devastating performance as Billy’s dad. It’s clear how hard life has been for him since his wife (a sweet performance by Elysia Jordan) passed and left him to raise their two sons alone. His standout number in the second act, “Deep Into the Ground,” is where the audience really starts to see his macho exterior unpeel and his journey into supporting his son at all costs begin.

Anastasia Barzee is wonderful as the ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson, who clearly believes in her craft (despite her gruffness with her students) and brings an underlying maternal energy and powerful vocals to the role. She recognizes a raw talent in Billy that will transform his life, while bearing the heavy responsibility that comes with having the fate of another in your hands. In the number “Dear Billy,” I am not sure there was a dry eye in the house, and I personally teared up throughout the entire show.

Noah Parents is a sensational Billy (the role is divided with Sam Faulkner). This is not his first time playing the character, and his confidence shows. He balances sensitivity with a regular little boy goofy sensibility. He is clearly trained in both ballet and modern dance as well as acrobatics, but saying anymore may spoil some of the more special dance sequences in the show.

Dale Soules as Billy’s grandma is both funny and poignant and Anthony Festa brings a raw tenderness as Billy’s older brother, who can’t imagine a different path for his brother than the mining life that he has followed his father into.

Alec Shiman as Michael is terrific as Billy’s friend, struggling with his own demons as he grows into a man. The grand ensemble cast as a whole is terrific and it would take another review to single them all out.

One critique is that the small but mighty orchestra is a bit loud. The dialect coach has done a masterful job working with such a large cast, but northern England accents aren’t the easiest for North American audiences to decipher to begin with, let alone with music often drowning out the words. Also at close to three hours, be prepared to get comfortable.

On a personal note, I hadn’t been to the Playhouse since childhood and was charmed by the beautiful grounds (you can hang around outside at intermission!) and summer stock atmosphere. So take a drive up North through July 26th and have an amazing theater experience just an hour from Boston. You won’t regret it! For more info, go to: