Note: Entire Contents Copyright 2016 by Tony Annicone
Amiee blocks the show wonderfully while choreographer Rachel Bertone supplies some breathtaking dance numbers for this show. Musical director John Jay Espino brings out the best vocals in this hard working cast as well as in his six piece orchestra. The show starts off slowly due to the book of the script but picks up with "Shine", "Solidarity" and "Expressing Yourself". The fantastic set which gives the stage a huge appearance with four wooden prosceniums and easy on and off scenery is by Erik Diaz. Leading this hard working cast is 12 year old Matthew Dean, who is a triple threat performer at a very young age and is destined for stardom. Matthew not only tugs at your heartstrings as Billy but also delivers comic moments along the way, too. His dancing is electrifying and his singing voice is impressive, too. Matthew's numbers include "Angry Dance" which mesmerizes the audience with his phenomenal tap dancing at the end of Act 1 and again in "Electricity" which sends chills up your spine. It stops the show with power and punch as Billy explains to the powers that be what dancing means to him. Another one of his numbers is "Solidarity" when he continues to take dance lessons without the knowledge of his family. The dancing students, the cops and the strikers also sing it, making it a stirring anthem in this show. One of the most outstanding dance numbers is the dream dance to Swan Lake, the Pas de Deux between Billy and the older Billy played by J. Morgan White who is also splendid. This is a breathtaking moment when Billy's dreams are finally realized. Matthew flies through the air in this number when J. lifts him into the air. His interactions with one and all are astounding especially poignant is "The Letter" song with his mother at the end of the show. Bravo!
One of the funniest numbers in this show is "Expressing Yourself" when Billy's friend, Michael excellently played by talented 13 year old Tony Weissinger. Michael is flamboyant and tells Billy to wear a dress to just relax. This vaudeville number is magnificent as Matthew and Tony do a fabulous show stopping light jazz and kick line dance. Their relationship becomes heartwarming at the end of the show when Michael wishes Billy success in his future endeavors which leaves the audience in tears when Billy kisses Michael on the cheek. Shannon Lee Jones shines as Mrs. Wilkerson, the dance teacher who eventually recognizes Billy's talent as a dancer. She is gutsy and commands every scene she is in. Mrs. Wilkerson encourages Billy to follow his dreams and ignore all the negativity around him. Her first number is "Shine" and is hilarious as she chastises her young dancers in her class who are superbly played by 9 young girls who's dancing prowess is amazing. This song is reminiscent of Miss Hannigan chastising the orphans in "Annie." Her most poignant moment in the show comes when she reads Billy's mother's letter to him in "The Letter" with Matthew and Melissa McKamie who is brilliant as Billy's dead mother. She definitely tugs at your heartstrings in this moment and at the end of the show with Matthew when he leaves to follow his dreams at last. Another marvelous number is "Born to Boogie" when Billy learns an impressive dance to audition for the dance school. Shannon delivers a well nuanced performance and is fabulous in this role as this hard as nails teacher who is really a marshmallow underneath. I first reviewed Shannon as Miss Mona in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" at Foothills Theatre in 2009.
Christopher Swan is fabulous as the stoic father who finally shows his deep emotions in "Into the Ground" when he displays his devastation at the loss of his wife. The emotional tears fall as soon as Matthew joins him in this song. Chris also sings "He Could Be a Star" with his son, Tony when they argue about Billy's future in an emotion packed scene where Billy is knocked to the ground. Christopher gives a strong portrayal of this hard as nails man who realizes he must let his son follow his dreams. Zaven Ovian does a splendid job as Tony, running the gamut of emotions from bitter to sympathetic about Billy's plight. He displays his voice in the "He Could Go and Shine" number. I last reviewed Zaven in "Carousel" at Reagle Music Theatre this past summer. Sarah Polen plays the dotty old Grandmother who gives everyone the finger when she disagrees with them. She also sings about loving dancing and drinking when she was a young girl. Other standout comic characters include Brad Kirton as George the boxing teacher who bats Billy and Michael in the head, Sophie Appel the pesky Debbie Wilkerson who has a crush on Billy and Greg LoBuono, the piano player at the dance school who dances up a storm in "Born to Boogie", a definite show stopper. Kudos to the singing and dancing chorus of this show. Ocean State Theatre Company does a fantastic job with this epic musical. The audience jumped to their feet at the curtain call on a job well done. Run do not walk to the box office to see this heartwarming musical before it is sold out. Tell them Tony sent you.