Billy Elliot, The Musical at the North Shore Music Theatre
‘Billy Elliot, The Musical’ – Book and Lyrics by Lee Hall; Music by Elton John; Based on the motion picture ‘Billy Elliot’. Directed and Choreographed by Adam Pelty; Music Direction by Adam Bryan: Sets and Lighting by Jack Mehler. Sound Design by Donald Hanna. Costume Coordinator Paula Peasley-Ninestein. Presented by ‘Billy Elliot, The Musical’, 62 Dunham Rd. Beverly, MA through Oct. 11.
‘Billy Elliot,The Musical’, now playing at the North Shore Music Theatre, is
ostensibly about a boy deciding to pursue his dreams without the support hus friends and family, but like many great musicals, it’s really the backstory that
elevates the show from a fun night of singing and dancing into something
special. Just as NSMT’s outstanding production of ‘Saturday Night Fever’
allowed us to see the struggles of working class Brooklynites (instead of just
a story about a disco dance contest), this show takes us inside the lives of
the people most affected by the British
miner’s strike in the 1980’s – the miners, their families, and the community
around them – and it isn’t always pretty.
The show opens with the full cast singing “The Stars Look Down”,
and with lyrics like “In the dark, right through the storm; We will stand,
shoulder to shoulder; To keep us warm,” you know the story is going to be
a lot closer to ‘Les Miserables’ than say, ‘Bye, Bye, Birdie’. Making matters worse for Billy was his mother’s passing away two years earlier, (although she makes frequent
appearance throughout the show). But there is
always hope, even in the bleakest of circumstances, and young Billy is the one
to provide that hope. When he lingers at the gym following his boxing class and
sees the girls going through their ballet exercises under the tutelage of the
chain-smoking and cynical Mrs. Wilkerson (Janet Dickinson), he is intrigued.
She gets him to come back and – unbeknownst to his gruff Dad, brother and the
rest of the mining community – begins to use the money earmarked for his boxing
lessons to take ballet instead.
As the strike rages on, there are violent clashes between the police and
strikers, and as the situation grows more and more dire with no end in sight,
tensions flare at home. When Billy’s Dad discovers that his son is taking the
lessons, he becomes enraged and threatens Mrs. Wilkinson. He forbids her to teach him, despite her assertions that he has what it takes to go to the Royal Ballet School. But we all
know it doesn’t end there, and the joy is in the telling, especially with this
talented cast. And the show does a great job of keeping us grounded in the
troubling times time without bringing us down too far.
We get enthusiastically upbeat numbers like “Shine”, where we
see Billy first developing an interest in dance, and “Expressing
Yourself” a torrid number that features Billy (Nicholas Dantes) and his
cross-dressing pal Michael (Alec Shiman), tearing up the floor in an athletic
tap number. Those song and dance routines are sharply contrasted with full cast
songs “When We Were Kings” and “Merry Christmas, Margaret
Thatcher”, a derisive dirge sung by the mining community at their
booze-soaked and thoroughly depressing holiday party.
Nicholas Dantes is terrific as Billy, combining the requisite street
toughness with an amazing agility as a dancer (something he’s only been doing
for three years). And his dramatic scenes with his deceased mother (the
endearing Elysia Jordan) are genuine touching, especially when the pair sings
“Dear Billy” (Mum’s Letter) and brings the house to tears. Janet
Dickinson is also a gem as Mrs. Wilkinson, maintaining a tough exterior while
never letting her softer side turn too saccharine. The cast is uniformly solid,
and the choreography is imaginative, not only for the expected scenes (Billy’s
“Angry Dance” and the show stopping “Electricity”) but in
the scenes where the cops and strikers interact as well.
The show has been running for 10 years in London, but you can save yourself the time and expense of an international flight by just heading out to Beverly to see this terrific show before it closes on October 11th. For more info, go to: http://www.nsmt.org/