There are some adorable and insanely talented kids onstage this week – and I'm not talking about the ones running out of Mother Ginger's skirt at the Long Center (though they're pretty swell, too). Across the river, a gaggle of wee ballerinas, an "expressive" young closet queen, and a kid who just wants to dance, dammit, have taken over Bass Concert Hall for a weeklong engagement of the national tour of Billy Elliot the Musical.
This uplifting drama about a boy with unorthodox dreams in the midst of the mid-Eighties UK miners' strike has won just about every theatre award that exists, and for good reason. It has an electric-guitar-meets-brass-band score by the (Lion) King of Broadway, Sir Elton John (it's a bit heavy on the guitar, if you ask me); a precious, if somewhat conventional, book and lyrics by Lee Hall, adapting his 2000 film of the same name; and – my favorite part – radiant choreography by Peter Darling that makes you want to run out and sign up for ballet classes. The actors' northeast English accents (complete with plenty of dirty Britishisms), Ian McNeil's metamorphosing set, Rick Fisher's well-placed use of shadow, and Nicky Gillibrand's rainbow palette of Eighties duds complete Billy's working-class world.
Though Tuesday evening's performance got off to a slow start, the cast of the touring production picked up steam with the exceptional "Solidarity," a stunning number in which the tutu-ed ballet girls dance next to bobbies and the picket line to chronicle the negative progress of the strike as Billy learns to pirouette. Other enjoyable moments that garnered plenty of guffaws included grandma's (Patti Perkins) irreverent recollection of Billy's granddad (the sod!) and Billy's bestie Michael's (Cameron Clifford, alternating with Jake Kitchin) utterly delightful declaration of his personal style in the glittering "Expressing Yourself."
Janet Dickinson, as Billy's chain-smoking, leg-warmer-wearing dance teacher and Rich Hebert as his tough father also gave excellent performances, but in the end, the boy wonder stole the show. I saw Broadway veteran Ben Cook in the titular role, though there are four other young men in the touring cast who share the demanding part (Kylend Hetherington, Drew Minard, Noah Parets, and Mitchell Tobin). Onstage for nearly all of the lengthy show, Cook showed an impressive physical and emotional range as he tapped, cartwheeled, fouyetted, and boogied. So much talent! For someone so young!
According to Wikipedia, Cook celebrated his 15th birthday on Tuesday. While I wish him an HBD, I do hope he's not getting too old to play 11-year-old Billy just yet.
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