note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
Some critics said it couldn’t be done -North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT) couldn’t possibly stage Elton John’s monumental musical, “Billy Elliot” in the round.
Never say never. You have to know NSMT owner Bill Hanney and his dedicated employees, cast and crews to realize they’d accomplish it, spectacularly.
Broadway’s Adam Pelty directs and choreographs a superlative, blended 32-strong cast, some who appeared on Broadway, others at Ogunquit Playhouse’s multi-award winning production, and local and national performers, including Winthrop’s own stars, Stephanie Moskal and Haven Pereira.
This multimedia musical (kudos, set-lighting designer Jack Mehler, sound designer Donald Hanna, and music director Andrew Bryan), is an exciting heart-stopper.
Suspended, large screens, project historic black-and-white newsreels of World War II’s end, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s violent 1984 clash with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). She was determined to close the “pits,” or coal mines, wiping out thousands of jobs, impoverishing and shutting down towns,villages and communities. “Billy Elliot’s” riot scenes are potent, terrible reminders of their battle with extinction.
So’s the underlying theme of daring to be oneself, accepting individuals for who and what they are, instead of ridiculing them, and coming together to help them soar.
Between the yearlong picket, police, and riot squad lines, little girls in white tutus frolic through their ballet lessons with their hardboiled ballet teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson, whom Janet Dickinson portrays with feisty panache. They become sandwiched, swept into the crushing crossfire.
Twelve-year-old Billy Elliot (talented Nicholas Dantes) has his own conflict, though. Despite a paucity of funds, Billy’s widowed dad, David,(Timothy Gulan) sends him to boxing lessons, which Billy dislikes. He prefers watching the ballet classes. He suddenly is swooped into the ballet class. He’s awkward at first, but emerges from a beginner ugly duckling to accomplished, stunning swan.
But he’s conflicted, knowing his father and his older macho brother, Tony, (CJ Eldred) would disapprove. Billy’s best friend, Michael, who also hates boxing and secretly likes to dress up in his sister’s clothing, is supportive, though. Incidentally, Brookline freshman-veteran actor Alec Shiman portraying Michael skillfully reprises his Ogunquit role, with dance and comedic finesse. Elysia Jordan, who portrayed Billy’s mother in Ogunquit, is equally ethereal here.
Billy also keeps a close eye on his doddering Granma,(elegant actress Sarah deLima) who’s slipping into senility. In a stirring, nostalgic exchange, she shares her one, wondrous dream with him, in song, “We’d Go Dancing”. DeLima and Dantes make intergenerational magic here.
“Billy Elliot” isn’t just the story of a young boy thwarted from doing what he loves most, for fear of ridicule and displeasing his dad.
The historical content of Margaret Thatcher’s shutting down the coal mines, along with the miners’ determination to protect and regain their jobs, while the impoverished group supports Billy and his dream, is startling, anthemic, and deeply moving.
Everything about “Billy Elliot,” from the miners‘ anthemic battle cry, “Solidarity,” to Billy and Michael’s cross dressing in duet “Expressing Yourself;” from Billy’s breathtaking fantasy pas de deux with his elder self (magnificent Maximilien A. Baud) to his expressive solo in song “Electricity,” is, indeed, electrifying - a visually striking, emotionally moving, theatrical feast.
BOX INFO: Two-act, award-winning musical, at Bill Hanney’s North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly, through Oct. 11: Tuesday-Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, at 8 p.m.; matinees, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, at 2 p.m. Tickets, $54-$79; check for children’s Family Friday rates. Call 978-232-7200, visit www.nsmt.org or the Box Office.