Friday, January 16, 2009

Billy Elliot Melbourne Review


From feel good feature film to hit stage show Billy Elliot The Musical captures the perfect blend of fantasy, poetry, politics, song and dance to inspire us all to follow passion.

Lee Hall’s stage adaptation with a musical score by none other than popmeister Sir Elton packs a pretty punch. Set against the 1984 British Miners Strike - the longest strike in UK history - is the tale of a miner’s son with an impossible dream. That dream is Ballet. Twelve year-old Billy Elliot is surrounded by older men, including his father and older brother hell bent on making his dream a nightmare.

Perhaps Billy Elliot’s appeal is this. It’s a story apropos for any new generation paving a way for youth culture, that eternal quest - the dispensation of outmoded parental beliefs, of long established codes and the collective countering of saboteurs who corrupt young imagination. In the 1980’s Thatcher’s Britain witnessed enormous social, political and cultural change, in its wake came a new generation tired of old Britain Industrial Britain, impoverished by a long entrenched class system that privileged wealthy, aristocratic and heroic males. Send in the poets said youth of the day.

At the heart of the story is a message equally universal in feel - that privilege is not for the few but for the many, that we as individuals create our own destiny, it is not a given, that we manifest our dreams by taking action - we are all privileged to the wellspring that is our own imagination.

On this New Years Eve opening night Dayton Tavares played lead Billy, one of five young men cast in this demanding role for the Melbourne season. Several standing ovations for Tavares' performance are a testament to the stamina, prowess and sheer force this nimble and charismatic actor brings to such a demanding lead role. Tavares is able to hold his own in song, dance, wit and grace as the young lad on a quest - from repressed Geordie lad with a vision to Royal ballet luminary.

Sir Elton’s score meanders the spectrum of musical styles, from rousing workers Anthems to blues, music hall ditties, jazz and a hints of disco. And for this writer, it was the magical sequence of gargantuan floral frocks dancing before Billy and his gay best mate Michael (Thomas Doherty) that was breathtaking, showstopping stuff in a trippy Alice in Wonderland way. Doherty is simply marvelous, hilarious delivery, superb comic timing. Hall’s script evokes a sense of the unnerving activism of workers at the time - men about to be displaced, dispossessed - rubbing up hard against Thatcher’s police state, against privatization policies, floundering in an industry about to change as the global energy industry begins to green.

Billy’s dead mother (Samantha Morley) - a phantom no less - whose spirit awakens Billy and the men in northern England to the golden possibilities held deep within. Morley’s version of the Ballad, Dear Billy, is haunting and touching.

Billy’s dad (Richard Piper) perfectly cast as the father at mid life transformation - from bigoted prig to mentor filled with praise and care, his mercurial character at once engaging, witty, soulful, lovable and fallible. His Geordie voice smooth like honey during a Christmas party scene when he laments the death of his wife.

Mike Smith cast as Billy’s older brother transmutes too - in different ways, as the elder son, apple of his fathers eye - a rebel with a miner’s cause. However, it is the unrelenting passion of younger brother Billy, that brings a call to change, he learns not to follow his fathers footsteps but to find the beat to his own drum. Lola Nixon is a delight as the lapsidaisical grandmother. Genevieve Lemon as the no nonsense and sassy ballet teacher brings Billy and the posse of men to their senses, awakening them to their hearts, and to a society on the brink of change.

A chorus line of tutu trackie dack clad women and men provide lashings of frou frou frivolity. Alongside the leads the company dazzles us pink with a fanfare of chorie sequences auspiced by show choreographer Peter Darling. Billy Elliot The Musical is a generation X tour de force, a musical blend of young and old, naughties new and eighties blue - add to the mix all the foibles of human nature, all the fallibilities of family - and presto! - memorable musical theatre that gets the blood pumping again as a New Year begins. A show for all six senses!

- Australian Stage Online


BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre | Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Times: Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm
Matinees: Sunday at 3pm, Wednesday & Saturday at 1.30pm
Tickets: $47.90 - $125.90
Running Time: 3 hours with interval
Bookings: Ticketek 1300 795 012
www.billyelliotthemusical.com.au

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