Based on the 2000 film of the same name, Billy Elliot The Musical is a show like no other.
With book and lyrics are by Lee Hall (Shakespeare in Love, Network), and music by Elton John (The Lion King, Aida),the plot follows the title character Billy, and his desire to start ballet lessons, amidst the North East England Miners’ strike. The show won an Olivier (Best New Musical), 2 Tony Awards (Best Musical, Best Book), 10 Drama Desk Awards, and countless others as it made its rounds globally.
It’s undeniable what a huge mark the story of Billy Elliot has made on society today. It critiques the class system and government, empowers the working class through the narrative of the miners’ and their union and repeated chanting of “solidarity,” and most remarkably, massively subverts expected gender roles. The concept of masculinity is challenged on multiple levels throughout the narrative, using the miners as a direct contrast to the often considered ‘feminine’ practice of men dancing, and uses Billy as a great example of boys breaking away from the masculine expectations imposed on them. Michael’s character discusses drag in a positive light, saying that it’s just a way he expresses himself. The overt discussion of gender performativity and masculinity places Billy Elliot in a very special place, especially when at the time of its creation it was one of the first stage shows to openly discuss these issues.
Opening night saw River Mardesic in the title role, one which he shares with Omar Abiad, Wade Neilsen, and Jamie Rogers. A huge undertaking for any dancer, 11-year-old River tapped, shimmied, and fouettéd with the ease and skill of someone twice his age.”Angry Dance,” “Electricity,” and the Dream Ballet were awe-inspiring. River’s presence was absolutely magnetising, and he has an incredibly bright future ahead of him.
Oscar Mulcahy was a hysterical and fabulously unapologetic Michael. As with Billy, he shares this role with 3 others – Mason Kidd, Hamish Monger, James Sonnemann. River and Oscar’s “Expressing Yourself” was a true highlight of the night. Ella Tebbutt (shared with Chanel Charles and Gabriella Daggar) was hilarious as Debbie. The children as a whole were phenomenal, a wonderful group of talented individuals who we will no doubt see headlining shows in the next 10 years.
Lisa Sontag’s Mrs. Wilkinson was utterly dazzling – “Shine” was flawless from start to finish. Justin Smith was wonderful as Billy’s father, his return to the show after originating the role of Tony in the first Australian touring production. Each role in this show seemed to be cast well, with authenticity oozing out of many of the adults’ lines. The ensemble of the show were true triple threats, each playing a variety of different roles and dancing all sorts of styles. The orchestra were beautiful throughout the show, playing a diverse range of music from Elton John’s glam-rock tunes to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Lighting and set were used brilliantly to enhance the show.
I wouldn’t say that Billy Elliot is a kids show, despite the large child cast. It’s definitely more suitable for early teens and up, due to its strong language and violence, and its decently complex dual plot. If you’re unsure about the content, the original film version of the story is a great indication of the level of appropriateness. Despite this, the message of the show is clear and true.
Billy Elliot is an empowering display of love, passion, commitment, and following your dreams. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll have to pick your jaw up off the ground when you see these kids dance.
Billy Elliot The Musical is currently playing at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre until April.
Tickets and more information are available at www.billyelliotthemusical.com.au