By Michele Markarian
Billy Elliott the Musical, Music by Elton John, Book and Lyrics by Lee Hall. Directed by Susan Kosoff. Presented by Wheelock Family Theatre, 200 The Riverway, Boston, MA, through February 26.
This winter, you can take Amtrak or the GoBus to New York City to see one of the many fabulous musicals there that grace Broadway. Or you can make it easy on yourself by taking the D line to Wheelock Family Theatre to catch “Billy Elliott the Musical”. You won’t be disappointed. From the sets to the choreography to the exceptional cast, “Billy Elliott” is a show that should not be missed.
Billy is a boy without a mother growing up in northern England. Mining, the town’s main industry, is dying; Billy’s father, older brother Tony, and their miner friends are on strike for better wages. Stumbling upon a ballet class one day after his dreaded boxing lesson, Billy discovers something that he can excel at and has a passion for. Mrs. Wilkinson, the dance teacher, encourages Billy to sign up for an audition at the Royal Ballet School, even offering to drive him to the audition. Billy’s macho dad refuses, and almost a year passes until the economically downtrodden community rallies around Billy’s dream, each contributing money to get him to the audition, which he passes.
It’s hard to single out performers, as the cast are uniformly excellent. The ensembles are terrific – the miners are rugged and angry; the ballet school girls feign incompetence adorably. The working class accents are consistent – no easy task. The adults in Billy’s world are alternately tough and tender, a fine line beautifully played by Aimee Doherty (Mrs. Wilkinson), Neil Gustafson (Dad) and George (the excellent John David), the town’s belligerent boxing coach. Cheryl D. Singleton, as Billy’s somewhat addled Grandma, has a wonderful turn with her song about being married to Billy’s abusive grandfather, “Grandma’s Song”. Jared Troilo is well cast as Billy’s angry, embittered older brother.
Seth Judice, who plays Billy, shines. In addition to having oodles of charisma, the kid is what’s known in the business as a triple threat – he can sing, dance, and act. I trust we will be seeing Judice in musical productions for many years to come – he’s outstanding.
Director Susan Kosoff has successfully created a slice of downtrodden, rough, working class Britain. Matthew T. Lazure’s set design is realistically grimy and rundown, with pieces sliding in and out to represent Billy’s kitchen and bedroom, the dance school, the mine. It is one of the more authentic-looking sets I’ve seen on the Boston stage, and truly transported this audience member into a different world. At almost three hours long, I was fearful for the attention spans of some of the smaller children in the audience, but amazingly, they held up well, with none of the fidgeting that characterizes restless kids. Some of the language may be strong for youngsters – the program notes recommend the play for ages 8 and up – but there are enough funny moments to keep the kids engaged. The beauty of this heartfelt production is that young or old, there is something in it for everyone to enjoy and be inspired by. For more info, go to: https://wheelockfamilytheatre.org/current-season/feature-performance/