note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Richard Pacheco
“Billy Elliot” was a huge Broadway hit garnering 12 Tony wins and the production at Ocean State is winning highlighting a star turn for the talented 12-year-old Matthew Dean who has some dazzling moments in dance in this somewhat long show.
It is a musical based 2000 film “Billy Elliot”. The music is by Elton John, and the book and lyrics are by Lee Hall, who wrote the film's screenplay. The plot revolves around motherless Billy, who trades boxing gloves for ballet shoes. The story of his personal struggle and fulfillment are balanced against a counter-story of family and community strife caused by the UK miners' strike (1984–1985) in County Durham, in North Eastern England. Hall's screenplay was inspired in part by A. J. Cronin's 1935 novel about a miners' strike, “The Stars Look Down”, to which the musical's opening song pays homage.
There seems to be a split on focus between the gritty miner’s stroke and Billy’s disparate efforts to become a professional ballet dancer. The mixture of these two diverse things at times doesn’t quite gel into a complete and polished whole. Aimee Turner who directs doesn’t always manage to get that kind of melding of contradictory elements that might indeed be part the issue with the musical itself. One of the issues is one moment he ids unhappily in boxing class and then very shortly after that he is a stunning dancer. It seems an almost effortless transformation.
Michael Dean is a deft and talented dancer, full of finesse and capturing some wonderful dance moments. His mother owns a dance school in California. He has played the role before and will play it again in Phoenix. His voice is usually capable but not as outstanding as his dancing.
Christopher Swan plays his Dad with conviction and passion. He sings and impressive “Deep Into the Ground” in the second act.
Sarah Polen is Billy’s oddball grandma, a ball of energy and not all that stable with her family. She is a ball of energy with style and finesse.
Shannon Lee Jones is Billy’s dance teacher who takes a dedicated interest in helping the boy pursue his dreams. While she is convincing in her dedication to Billy, she is not as convincing as a dancer or carrying herself as a dancer. Dancers have a certain poise and carriage which she does not show.
Tony Weisinger is Billy’s best friend who is fond of wearing dresses and kisses on the check. The character seems a bit muddled and not well defined.
Melissa Mc Kamie as well as serving in the company does a turn as Billy’s dead mum. She shines in “The Letter.”
The choreography for Billy is often impressive and downright stunning. For the rest it is rather ordinary and pedestrian. The musical direction by John Jay Espino is usually right on the mark.
While the show won ten Tonys, it has some severe lapses in melding together the desperate elements of the miner’s stroke and Billy’s ambition. It is very long, about three hours and enjoyable enough with those considerations in mind.