Garrett Stack's Theater Reviews

Garrett Stack is host of Broadway Bound heard over the stations of WMNR Fine Arts Radio, Monroe, Connecticut.

I use a 5-star rating system: 
*  don’t bother
**  some redeeming qualities
*** pretty good especially if you like who’s on stage 
**** excellent artistically and technically 
***** one of those must see shows (rare rating)

Billy Elliot – Goodspeed Opera House

October 4, 2019
**** Billy Elliot pirouettes directly into your heart. Goodspeed’s fall production of it doesn’t disappoint.

When the film came out 19 years ago there was much buzz about the performances and the story line inspired by a similar true story. A talented 11-year-old boy chooses ballet over boxing in a rough, tough northern England coal mining town, where times have been made unbearable and violent because of a long miners’ strike in 1984 and ‘85 against the British government led by Margaret Thatcher. To make matters worse, Billy’s mother is dead, and his father is doing his best to raise two sons. Billy is bullied and ridiculed because of old prejudices but finds his inner passion through a nurturing local dance teacher who helps him pursue his dream. Great movie.
The musical version, with music by Elton John, opened in London before transferring to Broadway in 2008. Even more buzz surrounded Billy Elliot racking up 10 Tonys, including Best Musical, and an unheard-of Tony win for Best Actor given to all three young boys who played Billy Elliot in alternate performances.

Goodspeed Opera’s production retains all the magic and emotion of Billy’s journey with some exceptional performances by the principals. The night I saw the show, Billy was played by Liam Vincent Hutt who alternates with another actor. He’s like a beacon on stage with his acting abilities pretty well established at 13 and his dancing skills suited for the role. Throughout the show his artistry grows under the tutelage of his on-stage teacher Mrs. Wilkinson, played by Michelle Aravena whose experience in musical theater really acts as an anchor for her young Billy. She fits the town’s character, tough and rough on the outside, but inside had much to give with a good dose of tough love. She tells Billy, “Inside every one of us is a special talent waiting to come out. The trick is finding it.” Her song, The Letter, sung with Billy and his dead mum, will make you a believer.

The same can be said of Sean Hayden who plays Dad, who pays for boxing lessons then finds out Billy is going next door to the “girls only” ballet class. When he and his older son Tony, also a miner played Gabriel Sidney Brown, find out what Billy is into it doesn’t go well. The two men are well-suited for their roles and deliver as directed, calling up ugly stereotypes, misconceptions and prejudices.

Billy has a young friend, Michael, who encourages him to dance and be free. Jon Martens, as Michael, provides a great since of comic relief through his on-stage persona as a young boy just grappling with his feelings for other boys, including Billy. At his age, he can get away with the big portions of ham he serves up.

There are so many poignant scenes in this show that talking about them would give it all away. Let’s just say, it’s an emotional bungee cord that requires tissues. But I can say Billy’s journey is triumphant with the uncompromising support of family, neighbors and friends that eventually comes.

Elton John’s music and Lee Hall’s book and lyrics pack a powerful right hook with the soul-shaking male ensemble numbers like Solidarity, and the tenderness of Barbara Marineau, as Billy’s Grandma, having quiet time with her grandson in a showstopping Grandma’s Song. Sean Hayden, Dad, delivers a stellar performance in Act 2 when he sings He Could Be a Star. The audience is sobbing audibly, and so will you.

You’ve heard that Goodspeed has a very small stage, not much bigger than it was in 1876 when it was built. In this musical you need to send miners below ground in massive elevators. Scenic Designer Walt Spangler is to be congratulated in creating illusions of big spaces, deep mines, and intimate interior rooms.

Since Billy Elliot is about dancing, Choreographer Marc Kimelman made it all believable, especially with Billy and a new twist in the musical’s famous Swan Lake scene.
So much good to say, so little time on the radio, I have only one tiny criticism. In an effort to make the show sound authentic to its setting, extreme northeast England, the characters had to learn how to speak in County Durham accents. For some, the affected accents made their lines unintelligible, especially the young girls. I would have preferred to hear an American accent with lines I could understand. However, that didn’t detract from the overall impact.

At Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut through November 24, let Billy Elliot dance into your heart where it will stay forever.

I give it 4 stars, excellent artistically and technically. I’m Garrett Stack, and that’s how I saw it. 
(October 2, 2019 evening performance.)

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