Billy Elliot: The Musical
The Garden Theater
Music by Elton John
Book and Lyrics by Lee Hall
Directed by Rob Winn Anderson
Starring Parker James Fullmore, David Lowe, C. J. Roche and Sara Catherine Barnes
Winter Garden, FL
This may well be the strongest book I’ve ever seen in a musical. Little Billy Elliot (Fullmore) takes boxing lessons while his widowed dad (Lowe) struggles to make ends meet in the hard-bitten coal fields of Yorkshire. But Billy hates boxing and discovers ballet lessons are the same cost as boxing, and he shifts curricula, without mention it to dear old dad. Well, of course, dad finds out and goes ballistic, until Billy is offered a chance to audition the Royal London ballet company. It pays about what coal mining does, but with other fear of black lung and mine collapses. Guiding Billy to the arts we have the hard-bitten ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson (Barnes). She spits nails and books no guff, but she can see talent and knows Billy needs a better school than she can offer. The dancing boy is a scandal, until their strike is broken, and they decide to send one of theirs to safety, even though the hardest part of his career lies ahead. But at least he’ll be in London and safe from mine collapse.
Fullmore looks frail but busts his moves with grace and style. He pulls punches in the first act but impresses after that. Lowe’s father is pressed from all sides, and between the strike, the poverty and his loss of a wife he’s in a pressure cooker and we feel his anger as he strikes out at another indignity. Miners are tough and not afraid of a fight, and that substrate of violence shows up as everyone on this stage tries to out tough everyone else, even Billy. Local character actor Bob Brandenburg gives us a gruff and convincing boxing instructor, and Jac LeDoux plays the a wonderfully batty character as Billy’s Grandmother who hoards and forgets food. The dance number that ruled this show came at the end of Act 1. “Angry Tap” was the note I took in the dark, and I was happy to discover that’s what the program calls this dark dance number. I’ve never seen a tap sequence quite as brutal. I highly recommend this big end of season musical; it has everything from Dickensian poverty to good old fashion feel good, humming tune out the door musical theater. It’s a big show with a heart as deep as a coal mine.