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Theatre Review: Billy Elliot

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, April 11, 2013

There are two contrasting arcs in the plot of "Billy Elliot" - one tragic, one triumphant. The tragic arc involves rough-edged coal miners in a grim northern English town, who boldly announce a fateful decision in the first scene.

"We're out - We're on strike."

The strike is crushed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose name is demonized, and the miners lose everything.
But there's also a strong upward arc, involving a plucky 12-year-old boy who bravely decides, against all odds and working-class masculine expectations, to study dance instead boxing. (sound rising) In fact the kid switches into his dance moves in the middle a boxing lesson, whirling and prancing like a pint-sized disco Romeo…  to the distress of the boxing coach, who wants to see an aggressive swift right hook.
Coach: What the hell are you doing, John Travolta? It's not a bloody tea dance man! Hit him in the head!
Billy is a natural in ballet shoes, and despite his father's objections, he heads for a big league audition with the Royal Ballet in London. The rags-to-riches saga is a staple in musicals on both sides of the Atlantic. But the ability to sympathize with a doomed coal miner's strike is more a British thing.
The big draw with "Billy Elliot" is the dancing. It's not just the plucky kid in the title role -- we also see paunchy middle-aged coalminers give it a try… the hopeful message being that really, it's never too late.

Rather to my surprise, I also enjoyed the retro score by Elton John, including stirring union anthems and sentimental folk songs.

Dad: ("Oh the summer's heat can parch me dry, but I'll not leave here for a fortune, I shall never leave here till I die…"

Maybe the tough times we've endured here recently make it easier to connect with this decidedly British show, even though we live far removed from the coalfields along the River Tyne.
Broadway Sacramento presents "Billy Elliot" at the Community Center Theatre through Sunday, April 14th.
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