by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Billy Elliot-The Musical is at the Times Union Center/Moran Theatre through Sunday, March 3rd in downtown Jacksonville. Good seats available for all remaining performances at www.artistseriesjax.org or charge- by- phone at 442-BWAY(2929) or 1-888-860-BWAY (toll free outside Jacksonville) .
Billy Elliot won 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical on Broadway. Over in England, it won the Olivier Award for Best Musical. The musical was based on the 2000 Universal film of the same name that received 3 Oscar nominations. This stage version is the book and lyrics by Lee Hall with music by Elton John.
This stage spectacular is the story of eleven-year old Billy (Ben Cook), who is trying to survive and make a life in a Durham County England mining town during the l984 miner’s strike that affected every family member. His widowed Dad (Rich Hebert) wants Billy to take boxing lessons but the young lad becomes more interested in the ballet lessons taught in the same gym by no frills/hard living Mrs. Wilkinson (brilliantly played by Janet Dickinson). It becomes obvious early on that Billy has remarkable natural talent and he is encouraged to audition for the Royal Ballet School. There is trouble when Dad finds out and he and the family already have enough fish to fry with their picket lines being constantly broken up by the police as they try to fight the government’s efforts to close all the mines.
It is not a spoiler to tell you he does audition, but what success he has, if any, we will let you discover when you see this inspirational play. The journey we are taken on by this splendid cast and the dramatic music during the course of two hours is mesmerizing.
The show features, as you would expect, excellent dancing, not only ballet but very outstanding tap and mixed dancing.
This fast paced show takes us with amazingly quick set changes from Billy’s home, to the gym, the union hall, the Royal Ballet theatre, and places in between. You might not walk out humming any of the l4 songs but you will be impressed at how they move the plot along with great emotion. It is difficult to pick our favorite number, as they are all so good, but two were particularly special. “Solidarity” is a show stopper that features the entire company, the police, the miners, the young female dancers in their tutus, and of course Billy and company. The “Angry Dance” featuring Billy and a men’s ensemble was electrifying and so well choreographed.
One of the reasons for the popularity and success of the film and this musical is the enduring message it imparts to the audience. You can dare to dream of getting out and bettering yourself. One message that is repeated more than once is; “Always be yourself and to yourself be true.”
Ben Cook as Billy is one of four young men that will play this role while this musical is in Jacksonville. Cook was quite amazing as an actor, singer and especially as a dancer. You will hold your breath watching the dream sequence where Billy is suspended high above the stage.
The miners’ strike was not successful and the government eventually closed and sold all the mines and began buying coal from foreign sources. When you go to see this musical be sure to get there early enough to read the displays in the lobby, one that explains the situation of the coal mines and the government in l984 and greatly enhances your enjoyment of this award winning musical.
The roadshow has added something not in the original Broadway production we saw in New York a couple of years ago. There is a musical medley of several minutes at the end of the play featuring the entire and we do mean the entire company dancing up a storm with Billy in the lead. It is just a really long curtain call, but it leaves the already inspired audience glowing as they exit the theatre. Whether you are into dance or not, you will be impressed with the performances, especially seeing Billy’s transformation from a somewhat stumbling shy dancer into a polished and dynamic professional.
Don’t miss this outstanding show.
BILLY ELLIOT-THE MUSICAL
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM