- Billy Elliot the Musical, April 2-7, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver. Tickets start at $35 at ticketmaster.ca.
IT'S 1984 in Northern England and the British National Union of Mineworkers has gone on strike in a bid to save the coal pits from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's threatened closures.
This tumultuous period in modern British history sets the stage for Billy Elliot the Musical, which sang and danced its way into Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Theatre this week.
Based on the 2000 film, and featuring the music of Sir Elton John, Billy Elliot is the winner of ten 2009 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The Vancouver run ends a five-city tour presented by Broadway Across Canada.
Directed by Stephen Daldry, the show follows young Billy Elliot (a role shared by four actors), who discovers a knack for dance after stumbling into an all-girls ballet lesson.
Not surprisingly, Billy's pirouetting prowess is not embraced by his coal mining father (Rich Hebert) or older brother (Cullen R. Titmas). After all, only "poofs" do ballet.
What follows is the uplifting story of a lower-class underdog chasing his dream to study at the Royal Ballet School. He is spurred on by his life-hardened ballet instructor Mrs. Wilkinson (Janet Dickinson), and divided by his desire to escape a town with no future, and his self-imposed sense of responsibility to care for a family which has lost its matriarch.
The high-energy show features choreographed clashes between the striking miners and riot police; however, the not-so-subtle smatterings of comedic relief leave one wondering just how seriously to take their strife.
The plot is slow to develop, but the by the end of the first act, which culminates in the emotionally charged "Angry Dance," the audience is left wanting more.
The score is certainly lively, but not likely to get stuck in the heads of theatre-goers. And the actors' varied takes on the Northeast England accent leaves some of the lyrics muddled.
The obvious highlight of the production is Billy's (played by Drew Minard on opening night) skill as a young dancer, though the audience only really gets the opportunity to appreciate the breadth of his talent toward the end of the show.
All things considered, Billy Elliot is a feel-good pleasure to watch. The titular character's late mother sums up the theme of the story nicely when, in a touching moment of inspiration, she appears before Billy and says: "In everything you do, always be yourself."
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