Critic’s Choice: A ‘Billy’ that leaps with boundless charm
The sheer joy of musical performance dances through “Billy Elliot the Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.
Although this surefire production of Elton John and Lee Hall’s Tony-winning adaptation of the Stephen Daldry film doesn’t entirely disguise certain pro-forma aspects in the property, audiences are unlikely to let that prevent their enjoyment.Its general overview adheres closely to the movie, opening with “The Stars Look Down,” in which striking miners in 1984 Northen England hit an anthemic note directly between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Boublil/Schönberg.
Here, director Brian Kite and choreographer Dana Solimando combine movement with meaning in ways that make the sociological stakes instantly clear, and the ensemble responds in kind.
And with the advent of young Billy (the astonishing Mitchell Tobin), whose widowed father and brother are firmly ensconced in the labor uprising, and his unexpected encounter with ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson (Vicki Lewis, never better), “Billy Elliot” is off and running.
Make that leaping, twirling, tapping and vaulting. Solimando has done fine work before, but the breadth of styles on display here is something else again.
Kite oversees a somewhat sleeker, sparer physical production than London and New York witnessed, which actually serves the storytelling beautifully, aided by designer Stephen Gifford’s interlocking sets, Ann Closs-Farley’s working-class costumes, Steven Young’s shadow-tinged lighting and Josh Bessom’s keen sound design.
And the vast, fervent cast ranges from wholly proficient to truly inspired, bringing the choral numbers and character pieces to vivid life under musical director John Glaudini’s expert stewardship, starting with Tobin’s dance-besotted title character, whose liquid line, unaffected approach and presence reveal a remarkable young talent destined for great things ahead.
Lewis is marvelous, low-key and intense at once, as his mentor, backed up by Neil Dale’s drolly oily rehearsal pianist. David Atkinson is particularly sensitive as Dad, Marsha Waterbury a hoot as Grandma.
Although Stephen Weston risks going over the top as brother Tony, it suits the character’s outrage; Jake Kitchin risks the opposite as Billy’s cross-dressing pal Michael, understated almost to a fault; and so forth across the boards, with the wonderful Kim Huber making her two appearances as Dead Mum touching standout moments.
The show is packed with them, in fact, from Lewis and the adorable flock of awkward ballerinas teaching Billy to “Shine,” to Billy and Michael’s showstopping “Expressing Yourself,” to the breathtaking Act 2 vision of Billy and his adult self (the superb Brandon Forrest) dancing in tandem to “Swan Lake,” which doesn’t need the flying it climaxes with to give us goosebumps.
Yes, Hall’s book is too obtrusive by Act 2, more than one scene screaming to be musicalized. No, John’s score, though catchy and apt, isn’t going to go down in history. And, in a rare misstep, Solimando’s moves for Billy’s Act 1 closer, “Angry Dance,” aren’t half of what Tobin and the moment could provide.
These are quibbles, though; this “Billy Elliot” delivers the electrifying heart and soul of the material, and La Mirada has a major hit on its hands.
“Billy Elliot the Musical,” La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sunday. Ends Feb. 8. $20-$70. (562) 944-9801, (714) 995-6310 or www.lamiradatheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.
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