Do not miss the Stratford Festival’s Billy Elliot the Musical. Do not miss it.
This sure-footed and pitch-perfect marvel will not disappoint you.
Helmed by superstar-director-choreographer Donna Feore and starring 11-year-old phenom Nolen Dubuc, Billy Elliot the Musical did not miss a step on its opening night Tuesday, May 28, at the Festival Theatre.
The 2005 musical from Lee Hall (book and lyrics) and Elton John (music) soars along with Dubuc and a stellar cast, including many young London hoofers. They all bring truth and beauty and joy to the musical based on the drabber 2000 film set in a fictionalized mining community devastated by the 1984-1985 British miners’ strike.
Dan Chameroy as Billy’s Dad, Marion Adler as Grandma Elliot and Steve Ross as George help shape the serious historical story — fired by stirringly delivered Sir Elton anthems such as “Solidarity” and “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher.”
In the midst of the community-crushing actions of the police (Thatcher’s dark agents) is the serious artistic theme of Billy’s self-discovery as a ballet natural.
His allies here are dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson (Blythe Wilson, recently seen at the Grand as Spirit of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol) and his best friend, Michael (young London star Emerson Gamble). Emerson and Nolen share the “dancing dresses” extravaganza “Expressing Yourself.” The charismatic Emerson stops the show playing a boy proud of being gay, even if (his character) Michael has to beg Billy to keep that a secret.
Along for Billy’s discovery of dance are Mrs. Wilkinson’s tutu-ed tyros. London performers Zoe Brown, Samantha Guzzo, and Carlee MacKenzie are among the best of Ballet Girls with Stratford’s Lucy Chung (daughter of London Symphonia GM Andrew Chung) cheerfully carrying on as Susan Parks, despite being a frequent target for Mrs. Wilkinson’s dance critiques.
The John hits rocking this theme include Born To Boogie and Electricity, a Dubuc master performance about why he lives and loves to dance.
Also in Billy Elliot are young Londoners Callum Thompson (as Tall Boy) and, in alternating role as Small Boy, Oliver Gamble.
Londoners Trevor Patt and Henry Firmston are among the Miners/Cops/Riot Police. Firmston is also one of the exquisite Dancing Dresses.
Billy Elliot the Musical is a classic of the 2000s. There are plenty of effs and more from the cast, including the young ‘uns. .
Is it true there are no string players in the 2019 festival orchestra? Not sure. Anybody know?
Meanwhile, cheers for the amazing Billy Elliot band which followed the Elton way through ballads, rockers, folk laments and dance grooves. Special bow to guitarist Dave Thompson for loudest ever raveup on the Festival Theatre sound system during “Angry Song” as Billy rages against the dead-at-the-moment ballet dream.
Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Out! Out! Out!
Billy Elliot is the second big musical on a big Ontario stage in 2019 to blast the legacy of the late and unlamented British PM Margaret Thatcher. The other is the Sting vehicle The Last Ship, admirable on a Mirvish stage in Toronto. The Last Ship is about the destruction of the British shipbuilding industry via a fictional Thatcher-like baroness masquerading as trade minister. The shipbuilders “win,” but only because Sting allows them to float their boat in a final fantasy scene. Victory in Billy Elliot is won by 11-year-old Billy as art triumphs over a grim political reality in a magical outcome.
Both musicals are full of scorn for the British police confronting the workers. Dance sequences in Billy Elliot may have the coppers looming about, but they are in the village to menace and maim.
Departed leaders of the era slagged along with Thatcher in a giant puppet sequence include despicable Chilean dictator Pinochet and perhaps surprisingly Canadian PM Pierre Elliott (!) Trudeau.
One British politician singled out for abuse in Hall’s script as a Thatcher accomplice is Michael Heseltine. Decades after the events depicted in the musical, Lord Heseltine was recently bounced from Britain’s Conservative Party for saying he would vote for the pro-EU Liberal Democrats in the 2019 Euro Parliament election.
You will want to see Billy Elliot the Musical because…
You love (or wii love) Donna Feore’s command of the Festival Theatre’s thrust stage … you want to be able to say you saw Nolen Dubuc when he was starting out … or say the same of any number of young stars with him this summer … you believe art can fight the power … you might, just might, see Elton John in the house — or, let’s go crazee here, even on the stage … you love Swan Lake, northern England and solidarity forever.
Check out full details on seats, times, and tickets at stratfordfestival.ca
Feature photo of Nolen Dubuc (centre) as Billy Elliot with members of the company in Billy Elliot the Musical. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.