Dance Across the Picket Line: BILLY ELLIOT

Photo by Glenn Cook Photography; on the way to boxing class.

Presented by Wheelock Family Theatre
Book & lyrics by Lee Hall
Music by Elton John
Orchestrations by Martin Koch
Based on the Universal Pictures/Studio Canal film Billy Elliot
Directed by Susan Kosoff
Originally directed by Stephen Daldry
Music direction by Jon Goldberg
Choreographed by Laurel Conrad
Sign Performances by Luke Baer, Alvin Haas, Ali Schmalenberger
Audio descriptions by Cori Couture, Ruth Celia Kahn

Jan. 27 – Feb. 26, 2017
ASL performances on Fri, Feb 24 @ 7:30, & Sun, Feb 26, @ 3
All performances are open captioned
The theatre is wheelchair accessible
Wheelock College
200 Riverway
Boston, MA
Wheelock on Facebook

Recommended for ages 8+ for mild violence, occasional references to sexy times by children who don’t understand what they are saying, and English cursing.  

Review by Kitty Drexel

“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”
– Winston Churchill (that other quote attributed to Churchill is not something he actually said.)

(Boston, MA) Wheelock does great work with Billy Elliot:The Musical. The 2000 source movie Billy Elliot, is a sweet and rough story about a working class boy who becomes enchanted with dance while his widower father, and brother are caught up in the coal miners’ strike. They are more worried that Billy might be gay, than they are in monitoring Billy’s daytime whereabouts. The musical, based on the movie, incorporates many points of the movie’s plot. The big distinction is the musical’s Disney-fication. Alter expectations accordingly.   

It is 1984, and MP Margaret Thatcher is a big disappointment to the working class. The coal miners’ strike is just beginning. Billy Elliot (Seth Judice) is waiting for his boxing class while his Dad (Neil Gustafson), and brother Tony (Jared Troilo) celebrate the strike. Billy gets sucked into a ballet class while attempting to pass off building keys to Mrs. Wilkinson (Aimee Doherty). His journey to the Royal Ballet school is rife with lessons, the most prominent being that the arts are equally as necessary to society as politics.

This is not Elton John or Lee Hall’s best work, either collaboratively or individually. Hall wrote the screenplay for the movie but its rough charm is missing from the musical. John’s music is hit or miss. The performances from the cast make up for a lot of the musical’s shortcomings.

As written, “Born to Boogie” doesn’t work. Elton John’s music and Lee Hall’s lyrics require a larger ensemble to tackle this song with integrity. It’s too big for only three people. It looks hokey and under-performed. They should have learned a lesson from “Expressing Yourself,” a drag and tap self acceptance anthem (joyfully lead by Shane Boucher in this production). This is not the fault of the actors. Conrad’s staging is simple overshadowed by insensitive writing. Rather, John and Lee misunderstand the needs of their musical.

Laurel Conrad’s choreography dexterously grasps the parallel needs of the musical’s themes. Her dancers are playful yet soft, while her coal miners are athletic and firm. Both worlds come to a head in “Angry Dance,” a solo during which Billy rages against gender expectations. Conrad’s staging is Flashdance meets the Olympics. Judice, skillful in voice and dance, tackles his solo with unrepentant agnst. It’s an impressive display.

Gustafson, Troilo, and Doherty share the stage with their young costars graciously. They aren’t the focus of this show but they do the majority of the dramatic heavy lifting.

The men’s chorus was not listening to each other on the afternoon that I attended. Their cut-offs were clumsy.

Unlike the dance choreography, the fight direction was neither effective nor believable. There was no fight choreographer for this production. This was painfully obvious.   

We left the Copley Square anti-immigration/anti-Trump protest in order to attend Wheelock’s production. It is possible to protest and support the arts. In fact, one must do both in order to make life worth living now and always. The current administration wants to dissolve the National Endowment for the Arts. Please support the protests in ways that you can. Please, please support the arts, any arts, with a donation of time or money. Humanity needs you to fight.

Queen’s Note:
we elected a thin skinned bigot to the office of the President dead set on turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. His plan to slash the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities is HERE. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so. Fight him. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD

Sign the petition to protect the National Endowment HERE.

#blacklivesmatter #translivesmatter #brownlivesmatter #yellowlivesmatter #lgbtqialivesmatter #immigrantlivesmatter #muslimlivesmatter #disabledlivesmatter #theatreartsmatter #NODAPL

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