Director Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliot the Musical, based on his beloved 2000 movie, about a boy in a small mining town, who discovers his love for ballet, is simply sensational. Without a doubt the best musical we have seen in years, a truly inspired work of magic. Every element of Daldry’s meticulously thought out transfer from celluloid to stage has been brought to brilliant musical fruition and the dancing is spectacular. The result is an electrifying big, bold, socially relevant Broadway musical told with real heart and soul.
On first thought, one would think making a musical version of the film would be an impossible task. The story follows a motherless coal miner’s son, who discovers he was born to dance, but must surmount his dad and brother’s harsh objections. And the tale unfolds against the backdrop of the historic 1984 miners’ strike in northern England, a result of Margaret Thatcher’s privatization of the coal mines. The dramatic themes are family, poverty, class, politics and the power of dreams/destiny.
Not to worry the film’s director Stephen Daldry, screenwriter Lee Hall and choreographer Peter Darling have combined forces with Elton John, reportedly at his request, for the most irresistibly passionate musical imaginable. Even though no single song stands out, the score is the best Elton John has ever created for the stage and supports Hall’s sharp gritty book and smart lyrics.
But Billy Elliot the Musical is more about the story told though Peter Darling’s thrilling choreography, a combination of modern, tap, and ballet, than the music. Add a sublime cast and the show is much more than the sum of its parts. Each and every facet contributes to the evening’s dramatic focus in such a way that the material bristles with life in one continuously surprisingly moment after moment. One terrific effect has Billy literally soaring more than 80 feet into the air while performing “Swan Lake.” But there are quiet moments juxtaposed with angry rebellious ones as well. And there are even some very funny scenes with Billy’s cross-dressing friend (a riotous Frank Dolce at our performance)
Kiril Kulish, a dancing protégé since four, was Billy at the performance we attended. He holds the center with his dancing, but he sings and acts beautifully as well. As they did with the London production that is still running, three boys alternate in the title role. The others are David Alvarez and Trent Kowalik. One can only wonder what different qualities the others might bring, but our Billy was exuberantly real. I believed every moment.
Even better considering their age and experience are his supporting players. Reprising her role from London, Haydn Gwynne is memorable as his no-nonsense, chain smoking ballet teacher, who knows her limitations, but realizes Billy’s potential. Gregory Jbara is equally wonderful as his down trodden macho father, and Carole Shelley is wistfully effective as his grandmother. They are dancers and singers, who really know how to act and there is not one weak link in the entire show. Billy Elliot the Musical is irresistible perfection.
By: Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan’s Papers
Billy Elliot the Musical opened on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, on November 13, 2008. For tickets call 212-239-6200 or visit the theatre box office.