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Billy Elliot

Billy Elliot as a musical? At first, the creative team for the award-winning film couldn't fathom it. How could the serious themes of the film—the violent 1984 clashes between the British state deputized police and the nationalized mineworkers union; and the machismo, latent homophobia, and anti-intellectualism of the coal mining towns—mesh with a medium that thrives on music, song, and dance?

Mrs. Wilkinson (Susie McMonagle) and Billy (Daniel Russell)
Mrs. Wilkinson (Susie McMonagle)
and Billy (Daniel Russell)
Photo: Doug Blemker
But in this case, the proposal was coming from Elton John, whose talent, reputation, and success warranted a hearing, at which, ultimately, it was the noted composer and songwriter's passion for the story—a young man who faced opposition and obstacles in his quest for artistic and singular expression—that brought the project to fruition.

The result captures the emotional arc of the original and then some, though decidedly in its own manner. While a bit over-the-top in places—with its broad comedic mugging and tutu envy, and unabashedly broad poetic license with the original story's sequence—the musical has its own charms, not the least of which is John's catchy score. We are less certain of the lyrics, due to the usual imbalance in the house mix, with the music overshadowing the vocals, plus a slight over-emphasis on the working-class English dialect, which further complicates the audio package.

Billy (Giuseppe Bausilio) and Mum (Beverly Ward)
Billy (Giuseppe Bausilio)
and Mum (Beverly Ward)
Photo: Michael Brosilow
The young men that play Billy (the 2009 Tony for best actor in a musical was shared by three) —a role that demands a stage presence for nearly the entire two and a half hours runtime (not including the intermission)—are incredibly talented (we got to see two different performers, one for each act, due to unknown reasons), energetic, and sincere. Their ballet moves are elegant, their modern moves slick, their tap lovely, but it is their emotional honesty that binds us to Billy, hoping he gets his chance to audition for the Royal Ballet.

Billy (Giuseppe Bausilio) and Dad (Rich Hebert)
Billy (Giuseppe Bausilio)
and Dad (Rich Hebert)
Photo: Michael Brosilow
Opposition for Billy's choice of vocation is strongest from his Dad (stern, but open Rich Hebert) his brother, Tony (fiery and proud Jeff Kready), and some of the other miners. His greatest support comes from Mrs. Wilkinson (tough, golden-hearted Susie McMonagle), his dance teacher, with an assist from his senile Grandma (a delightfully daffy Patti Perkins). Billy's struggle is amplified by the concurrent conflict between the corporate state and the miners union—the two dynamics playing off of each other in unexpected and artistically fresh ways, powered by the music and choreography.

The musical's increased emphasis on gay themes, compared with the film, make for a wholly different experience—less poignant, more comedic—though the message is the same, as Billy's deceased Mum (a sweet Beverly Ward) told him in her parting letter: "Always be yourself."

Denver Center Attractions presentation of the national touring production of Billy Elliot runs through June 5th. 303-893-4100 or www.denvercenter.org.

Bob Bows

 

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