Review By Annabelle Rosewarne
Uplifting, inspiring and truly electric, Billy Elliot the Musical is the heart-warming story of a young boy from a working-class mining town, with a passion for dance. Based on the film with the same name, Billy Elliot the Musical features music by Elton John, book and lyrics by Lee Hall, choreography by Peter Darling, and direction by Stephen Daldry. After such success across both screen and stage, it is no surprise that the 10th Anniversary Australian tour, has been wowing audiences with this timeless story.
Sharing the titular role are Omar Abiad (12, from Brisbane), Wade Neilsen (13, from Newcastle), Jamie Rogers (13, from Canberra), and River Mardesic (11, from Melbourne), all of whom are making their professional debut. For the Melbourne Season Opening Night at the Regent Theatre, it was only fitting that River Mardesic carried the show as Billy. Mardesic brings an immense talent to the stage for a boy so young. He portrays Billy with a depth and vulnerability well beyond his years.
We open to a gritty backdrop of Northern England in 1984, a time of conflict and severe political unrest. Billy’s stoic father played by Justin Smith and fiery brother Tony (Drew Livingston) are coal miners both heavily involved in the strike. The show deals with familial and generational tensions, as Billy’s social situation is at war with his desire to be a dancer. The family dynamic, complete with Vivien Davies as Billy’s eclectic Grandma, is honest, believable, and poignant.
It all begins when Billy stays late after his boxing class and finds himself in the middle of a ballet lesson, at the hands of tough yet nurturing Mrs Wilkinson (Lisa Sontag). Ballet girls, including Mrs Wilkinson’s daughter Debbie (Ella Tebbutt) squeal and scream, leaping around the room with a chaotic energy. Sontag performs her number Shine, with excellent comedic timing, supported by the chorus of girls, complete with pink tutus and feathers. In stark contrast, we see rigid policemen and miners in the skilfully choreographed number Solidarity. Darling cleverly interweaves movements of the three contrasting groups. The Policemen are firm and sharp, striking with their batons. Miners are rioting and protesting, standing on chairs. All while the ballet students intertwine the anarchy with their dancing. It is a visually stunning number of clever juxtapositions.
An audience favourite is the tap-dancing duet between Billy and his best friend Michael, played by Oscar Mulcahy. Their number Expressing Yourself is a joyous message of acceptance and friendship. Costumes by Nicky Gillibrand are bright and colourful, reflecting the delight of being unique, supported by Rick Fisher’s equally vivid lighting design. Perhaps the standout number in show, however, is the pas de deux that Billy dances with his older self (Aaron Smyth). Set to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, it was a powerful display of storytelling through dance.
The true solidarity of this show is seen in the community coming together to support Billy’s dream to go to the Royal Ballet School. In a moving scene where individuals unite to support the Elliot family, we are left with a powerful message that we are stronger when we band together. The company reunites for a final Show stopping number, where miners adorn tutus over their work clothes. It is a celebration of love, generosity of spirit, and following one’s passions. Billy Elliot the Musical is a timeless story of the creative spirit of a young boy, who just wants to be himself. It is not to be missed!
Image Credit: James D. Morgan
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.