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Theater Review: Billy Elliot, The Musical
by Scott C. Morgan

This article shared 14752 times since Mon Feb 19, 2024
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Book and Lyrics: Lee Hall; Music: Elton John. At: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora

Tickets: 630-896-6666 or; $28-$79. Runs through March 24

Billy Elliot: The Musical may nearly be two decades old, but the show often feels like it was just written yesterday. Watching Billy Elliot in a grandiose production at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, it's as if the musical was paying glancing references to contemporary news topics like labor strikes, anti-drag bans and harmful toxic masculinity.

Billy Elliot first emerged in director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter Lee Hall's Academy Award-nominated 2000 film. Back then, critics and audiences warmly received Billy Elliot's overcome-the-odds story of a working-class boy who discovers a love of ballet dancing amid a rancorous '80s miners' strike in Northern England.

Then, in 2005, Billy Elliot made the leap into a hit West End stage musical with the help of pop superstar Elton John, who joined the film's re-teamed creators like Daldry, Hall and choreographer Peter Darling. Critically acclaimed replicas of London's Billy Elliot later appeared on Broadway, in Australia and even in Chicago in 2010.

Billy Elliot at the Paramount might not fully eclipse memories of Daldry and Darling's Olivier Award and Tony Award-winning stage work. But director Trent Stork and choreographer Isaiah Silva-Chandley serve up plenty of visceral emotion and uplifting hope for this powerful Paramount production.

Front and center is the amazing triple-threat title performance, which requires lots of rigorous dancing (ballet and tap), singing and acting. The Paramount has cast Billy Elliot with two boys who alternate at different performances: Neo Del Corral and Sam Duncan.

Del Corral was on for the press opening night, and this veteran of two previous Billy Elliot productions repeatedly showed that he had all the required stage goods (including a fine "Geordie" accent as a credit to dialect coach Susan Gosdick). Del Coral not only made this taxing role believable with his dancing prowess, he was emotionally persuasive as Billy navigated the script's many road blocks impeding his artistic expression.

Helping Billy along in his journey is the ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson (a strong and no-nonsense Michelle Aravena) who helps to cultivate his talent while also functioning as a surrogate mother. Also of great help is Billy's cross-dressing friend, Michael Caffrey (an audience-showboating Gabriel Lafazan), who helps brush aside masculine qualms over dancing in the drag-filled production number "Expressing Yourself."

Closer to home, Billy gets mixed messages from his family who are still coping with a tragic loss. There's some support from his mentally fading Grandma (a fine Barbara E. Robertson) and the ghostly memory of his late Mum (a warm maternal presence from Jennie Sophia).

But Billy's Dad (Ron E. Rains) and older brother, Tony (Spencer Davis Milford), start out as semi-absent and then insurmountable obstacles. Rains and Milford deliver plenty of drama as their characters slowly come around to becoming Billy's supporters.

Director Stork and the Paramount production design team also echo the environmental obstacles to Billy with their great work. Michelle Lilly's hulking set suggests mining equipment that also ties into the town's industrial identity that the workers are fighting to preserve. That grittiness also extends to Izumi Inaba's period '80s costumes and Greg Hofmann's appropriately bright lighting design that breaks through the necessary bleakness.

I wasn't keen on choreographer Silvia-Chandley's decision to excise the usual tapping from the "Angry Dance" that closes out Act I. I missed the percussive dissonance that mirrors Billy's frustrations amid the rioting (whether real or symbolic) that breaks out between the strikers and police.

But I did appreciate Silvia-Chandley providing more early clues to Billy's fascination with movement. There's also plenty of daring lifts for Billy amid the "Angry Dance" to show how this little boy's hopes become collateral damage amid a government under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that was hell-bent on privatizing nationalized industries.

Billy Elliot does end on an uplifting note for its title character, which is wonderful for this impassioned and often joyful Paramount Theatre production. But the musical also isn't afraid to shy away from difficult topics that were not only a snapshot of what was happening in 1980s Britain; they are also uncomfortably relevant for Americans today.

This article shared 14752 times since Mon Feb 19, 2024
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