When it comes to new musical theater, it is important to note the difficulties of creating original masterpieces on a frequent basis. Most new musicals are, in essence, forgettable due to their unoriginal plot lines (usually based on popular movies or music icons), their blasé songs, and overall unimpressive performances.
However, some musicals are able to break this mediocre mold, and one of these is “Billy Elliot.” Based on the 2000 movie of the same name, the story is of a young English boy, growing up in the turbulent economic times of the Thatcher government. While his brisk coal-mining father, troubled brother and sick grandmother encourage him to participate in more manly activities such as boxing, Elliot accidentally discovers that he has a natural talent for dance. With the help of a brazen ballet teacher, he begins to prepare for an audition in the Royal Ballet School so he can become the dancer he always dreams; however, he first must find the courage to tell his dad that he wants to pursue a stereotypically feminine activity.
I had not seen the movie, nor had any knowledge of the plot, but as I left the Segerstrom Center of the Arts after the opening performance, I was certainly overwhelmed with a sense of happiness. Such a heartwarming tale was truly something unique that many new musicals fail to grasp. Plus, it was one of the most inspirational pieces I had seen in a long time.
The role of Billy Elliot, played by Noah Parets on the night I saw the show, was a dream. Obviously a critical part, the performance could either make or break the entire show; however, Parets was truly exceptional. His dancing was beautiful and passionate, a rare quality for such a young performer. He really made the show worth seeing.
The supporting roles were perfect additions to the show; although the center primarily focused on the son and the father, other noticeable standouts included Patti Perkins as the Grandma (who has an excellent solo in the first act), Janet Dickinson as the sassy ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson, and Cullen Thomas as the frustrated and domineering brother Tony. All were excellent in their own roles and contributed a well-rounded sense to the role and neither detracted nor stole the show from Billy’s struggle.
The choreography had to be one of my favorite aspects of “Billy Elliot.” It was extremely creative, oftentimes using chairs as artistic mediums that could transfer easily from scene to scene. Since the show is dance centered, it was expected the choreography be at least technically challenging; however, there were elements that surprised me in their ingenuity. Such example is in many of the breaks between scene changes, Elliot performed an interpretive dance using shadows that explained the story of his transformation into a more mature, as well as confident, ballet dancer.
The set was also a masterpiece, using a single space for the entire show; however, every stage mechanic was used in order to describe the changing locations, such as lighting, make travelling sounds for car engines, and pull out mini stages in order to add rooms, such as a kitchen or a bathroom, to the main scene. Watching how the set transformed was almost as interesting as watching Elliot dance.
The only problem, and of course I’m being extremely nit-picky because the entire show was fabulous, was that some of the historical context went without explanation. The British nation, identity, economy and political system was experiencing a huge upheaval during the time of “Elliot”: since the story takes place during the decentralization period of Margaret Thatcher, a person only well-known to the current generations due to the recent movie “The Iron Lady,” it seemed that much of the political satire went unnoticed. However, this is purely an issue with the script; like I said, before the show itself was amazing.
It can be difficult for us college students to find our passions in life, especially when we are bogged down with school, jobs, social obligations and planning for our future. I certainly have felt those pressures quite intensely, yet for the moment I was in that theater, I remembered the joy I felt when I realized I had found what I truly love in life. Good theater can make you enjoy the show immediately, but great theater tells a story that you think about days, even weeks after. And for this reason, “Billy Elliot” is a great show.
Recommended: It will help you find your passion.