Wed Nov 19 2008
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5
In recent weeks, stage pundits had murmured concern that Billy Elliot—the hit London musical based on the beloved 2000 movie—might run into translation problems here. Would its characters' thick North English accents be a turnoff? Might theatergoers' eyes glaze over with talk of wicked Maggie Thatcher and privatisation of the mines? In short, would Yanks connect with this very British musical? Not to worry: Our audiences understand heart, grit and spectacular dancing—the qualities that make Billy Elliot one of the most electric, passionate and exhilarating shows to land on Broadway in years.
This is actually an atypical British musical—with more of a debt to dynamic, feel-good American tuners than the static operetta-derived likes of Lloyd-Webber. True, there is a fair amount of lumpen anthem singing by mobs of striking coal miners, but also plenty of breezy razzmatazz, contributed by Mrs. Wilkinson (Haydn Gwynne), the cynical, chain-smoking children's ballet teacher who sees terpsichorean potential in young Billy (David Alvarez when I saw it, but the role is handled on alternate nights by Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish). Elton John's score is, let's be honest, a dullish parade of midtempo ballads and soft rock, and Lee Hall's book is superior to his merely adequate lyrics, but this production is emphatically more than the sum of its parts. Director Stephen Daldry (who also helmed the movie) does wizardly work balancing the various dialectics that give the material its crackle of sublime storytelling: broad spectacle versus tight dramatic focus, collective sacrifice versus individual excellence, escapism versus social duty.
Electricity is what Billy likens dancing to (a correlative to the coal his father and brother dig?), and that same energizing sizzle courses through this extraordinarily uplifting show. In a fantasy sequence with his future balletic self, Billy flies. Although his brother bitterly (and honestly) remarks "We can't all be fucking dancers," our little hero isn't alone: He's taken us aloft.