Review: 'Billy Elliot the Musical'

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 19, 2011

By Katie Scarvey
“Billy Elliot the Musical” doesn’t have the many facets of its Oscar-nominated film counterpart, but it’s nonetheless a brilliant gem in its own right.
Playing now through Jan. 30 at Ovens Auditorium, “Billy Elliot” reunited the film’s screenplay writer, Lee Hall, with its director Stephen Daldry. Together, they retain the essential ingredients of the film while sacrificing realism for broad comedy and soaring grandeur.
The story focuses on 11-year-old Billy, a boy who flounders when he’s wearing boxing gloves but soars when he discovers dancing. He stumbles into Mrs. Wilkinson’s ballet class full of a motley group of young girls. Trouble is, boys and ballet aren’t an easy mix in a working community, particularly one that’s facing stress over a miner’s strike (based on a real one in 1984). The strike is always in the background, drawing a sharp contrast between Billy’s unspoken aspirations and the reality of life in a dying mining community.
Still, Billy continues going to dance class, hiding it from his father and brother, who are busy dealing with the riot police who are trying to quell the striking miners.
The role of Billy — demanding physically and emotionally, one would assume — is shared by five different actors . It staggers the mind to imagine that all of them could all be as talented as Giuseppe Bausilio, who played the role on the night I attended.
One of the big numbers, “Expressing Yourself,” features the cross-dressing Michael, Billy’s best friend, exuberantly played by Jacob Zelonky. This over-the-top burlesque-style crowd pleaser transforms the somewhat sober movie version of Michael into a flaming piece of work.
Expressing yourself, however isn’t always about happy feelings. In the “Angry Dance” scene, Billy vents the intense frustration he can’t vocalize.
The most wonderful expression, however, comes when Billy dances to “Swan Lake” with an older version of himself, performing an astounding aerial ballet. It’s a transcendent scene, and the only thing detracting from it is that the older Billy (Maximilien Baud) is Germanic or Nordic looking — nothing at all like the dark-haired Bausilio, which may make audience members wonder who this older dancer is supposed to be. Still, their pas de deux is breathtaking.
As the hard-shelled ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson, Faith Prince conveys a wonderfully nuanced relationship with Billy, who worries initially that his teacher “fancies” him.
Her accompanist, the clothes-shedding Mr. Braithwaite, demonstrates in “Born to Boogie” that joyful dancing need not end when too many pints of ale have overcome the abdominal six-pack.
The “ballet girls” — in all shapes and sizes — are hilarious as they proceed goofily through their paces, threatening to overwhelm the initially hesitant Billy.
Ultimately, the things missing from the film are compensated for in other ways on stage. What they share is most important: an unwavering belief in the power of dance to elevate gritty and chaotic lives.
“Billy Elliot the Musical” continues at Ovens Auditorium, 2700 E. Independence Blvd., through Jan. 30.
Tickets ($32-$137) are available online at, or by calling 704-372-1000.