The movie version of Billy Elliot left Billy’s sexual orientation up for grabs. In the musical, he is more clearly gay—at least as I see it. You’ll probably forget Elton John’s score the minute you leave the theatre, but you’re less likely to forget the image of two prepubescent characters doing a lively drag number—to the delight of a packed house.
The touring company of Billy Elliot will be at the QE until April 7 and it’s worth seeing: it’s my pick this week.
The musical is an odd mixture of true sophistication and showbiz glitz. Billy emerges as a dancer within the brutal context of Thatcher’s England. Lee Hall, who wrote the book, and director Stephen Daldry sometimes honestly evoke that era in still, dark scenes. But it’s as if they don’t quite trust themselves; they throw in bits of corny business and, at the end, add an unnecessary encore in which everybody in the company wears a tutu.
But Peter Darling’s choreography is often strikingly original. It’s terrific to see child ballerinas and grubby adult miners dancing together. And, for a long time, I’m going to remember a surreal moment in which dancers exit the stage through windows.
The company is strong. I particularly enjoyed the charismatic enthusiasm that Jake Kitchen brought to the role of Billy’s friend Michael on opening night. (It’s Billy and Michael who do the drag bit.) And Janet Dickinson brings gritty wisdom as Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy’s dance teacher.
Drew Minard, who played Billy on opening night can sing, dance, and he’s a solid actor.
And the essential power of the story is undeniable. There is something heart wrenching about watching a kid fight for something that’s beautiful but despised—and win.