Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Billy Elliot

photo: David Scheinmann

At least half a dozen tearjerking moments in the thrilling, superbly staged musical of Billy Elliot set the audience around me bawling. The moment that finally did me in me was a quiet, understated one which subtly put forth the idea that community may be larger than family and family larger than the individual, but artistic expression is larger than all. The show, adapted from the smash hit indie film of the same name about a Thatcher-era working class boy who yearns to dance ballet, instantly joins the very highest ranks of British musicals a la Oliver! and has thankfully arrived on Broadway without being Americanized or dumbed-down. It's the kind of stirring entertainment that has something for everyone whether one absorbs its overarching thematic message or not and that nearly everyone will be interested in seeing once the word is out: in other words, get your tickets now while the show is still in previews because by Christmastime it will be impossible. The show employs three boys to play the central role of Billy and doesn't pre-announce who will play the role at a given performance, but given the level of care that has been clearly put into every aspect of the production I can trust that the other two Billys are in the same high strata of ability as Kiril Kulish, who I saw and who was captivating. There isn't a weak link anywhere in the large cast - Haydn Gwynne, reprising her role from the London production as Billy's unsentimental small-town dance teacher, has honed her every line reading for its maximum bite; Gregory Jbara and Carole Shelley, both familiar to Broadway audiences, skillfully disappear into their unglamorous, downtrodden characters; Frank Dolce, as Billy's cross-dressing school friend, is the kind of young ham who immediately endears himself to the audience and leaves everyone charmed. New musical theatre classic, thy name is Billy Elliot.

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