Saturday, April 18, 2009

New York, Spring 2009 -- Day Two "Billy Elliott"

"Billy Elliott," the London import that was a huge hit there and has accomplished a similar feat here has almost everything you'd expect from a big, crowd-pleasing musical: down on their luck (but plucky) kids, their beaten-down (but still hopeful) parents fighting the Man (or in this case, the Woman -- Maggie Thatcher), big sets, top-notch staging and lighting effects, heart-tugging ballads, funny uptempo numbers, tap dancing, men in tutus, brassy, trash-talking women. It's all here.

Except it never really connected with me. Remember, though, that I've never been one to connect with the more overblown examples of the musical theater form. I hated "Les Miserables" and "Phantom of the Opera" -- and we all know I was clearly in the minority there.

If you've seen the movie, you know the story: Billy Elliott is an 11-year old boy living in a coal mining town in northern England when Margaret Thatcher steps in to bust the unions. Billy's father and older brother -- both miners -- go out on strike at the same time Billy discovers ballet. ("Bally" in the argot of the region.) He's talented, but will dance be his way out of a life in the mines? (It's a musical, not an opera, so you can probably guess.)

"Billy Elliott" has a lot going for it, primarily a great cast of young performers, plus a few good songs by Elton John ("Solidarity" "Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher") and some good dance numbers. The choreography was occasionally imaginative, but mostly pretty straightforward and exactly what one might expect.

In fact, I think that's my biggest problem with the show -- it seemed completely predictable, delivering nothing truly groundbreaking or exceptionally imaginative in terms of music, book or dance. I was, however, mostly alone in my opinion. My three companions all loved the show and the audience gave it a standing ovation.

I stood too, primarily for the technical expertise of the show (even though it was stopped for three minutes in the first act due to a technical difficulty), but mostly for the bravura performance of young David Alvarez as Billy. The kid can dance, he can act, he can even sing -- and he's onstage for most of this three-hour show.

If this is your kind of thing, then "Billy Elliott" will be the thing for you.

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