Billy Elliot: The Musical
Imperial Theatre. Book and lyrics by Lee Hall, music by Elton John. Dir. Stephen Daldry. Ensemble cast. 2 hrs, 50 mins. One intermission.
Fri Oct 24 2008
The lauded London import--about an 11-year-old boy who, despite the chauvinistic orders of his coal-miner father, clandestinely studies ballet--has a little secret of its own: It's by far the manliest musical on Broadway. Sure, there are plenty of tutus (a few of which show up in surprising places), talk of homosexuality and sinewy dance numbers. And yet every scene is laden with testosterone.
Based on the beloved 2000 movie and set in the '80s in northern England during a devastating miners' strike, the show chronicles the title character's coming-of-age as he's forced to choose between obeying his dad (the excellent Gregory Jbara) and pursuing his dance dream. Formulaic as the premise is, Billy's personal strike against his father and the community of miners who mock him packs an incredible emotional punch. Having seen the show in England, I can report that the Broadway version is even better and bigger (as is the merch, which boasts plenty of American bling).
Due to the role's demands, three boys (Kiril Kulish, David Alvarez and Trent Kowalik) appear on alternate nights as Billy. When I attended, the sublimely talented Kulish gave an intense and moving performance. In the Act I finale, "Angry Dance," he brilliantly channeled the ire of an adolescent who's just been told that he's forbidden to pursue his calling. It's a riveting and scary number that brings the two main plot threads together, with Billy pounding his fists, feet and entire body up against the police, who have been called in to keep order (and break kneecaps) during the strike.
The quieter moments come in the scenes with Billy's late mom (Leah Hocking), who pops up occasionally to remind her son that he's loved. His best friend, Michael (played by David Bologna and Frank Dolce on alternate nights), also has a showstopping turn, with a nod to RuPaul (to say more would ruin its impact).
Perhaps the best thing about the show is that parents will get at least as much out of it as their kids (due to its subject matter and length, it's best for those ten and up). In Billy's final solo, "Electricity," the audience feels the high-voltage energy coursing through the theater. Billy Elliot is a musical for anyone who's ever experienced passion. Isn't that everyone?
plays at the Imperial Theater. Tickets: $41.50--$151.50.