Monday, April 5, 2010

Billy Elliot!

Billy Elliot! is the best new Broadway show that I’ve ever seen in the past ten years.

I haven’t seen every new Broadway show that’s out there but I saw Wicked and the Jersey Boys which had long and successful runs in Chicago, where I live. While seeing both of these shows were fantastic experiences, they didn’t really work for me.

As much as seeing witches fly in Wicked was awe-inspiring and as original the story is, the music is inconsistent. What’s disappointing is that the music sounds like “Broadway music” falling into this new modern musical genre of songs that are a little bit too long with words that simply aren’t that meaningful.

Jersey Boys featured beautifully performed and authentic 1960s pop music but totally side-stepped some important historical plot points, like how they stole most of their musical ideas from African-American performers. The best part of the show ended up being the fact that it becomes an oldies sing-along concert which while fun, is NOT what I’m looking for in a Broadway show. It would have been far more effective as a concert at Ravinia.

Billy Elliot! embraces what it means to be a musical, utilizing all of the artistic elements for one reason: to tell the story. The acting is direct and passionate. The set designs while not revolutionary skillfully creates Billy’s world. The music, brilliant composed by Elton John, adds depth and emotion while not drawing much attention to itself.

Then there’s the dancing.

I have never been impressed with dancing at a Broadway show and I’ve been to over a dozen shows. More often than not the dancing in shows feels like an afterthought, but in Billy Elliot! the dancing is breathtaking.

Check out the “angry dance” after Billy’s dad prevents him from perusing his dream and audition for the Royal Ballet School.

What you saw on the Tony Awards stage is exactly what I saw on stage. The brilliant use of the coal sign and the riot police shields perfectly represents how the conflict in Billy’s community is affecting his life.

Billy Eliot! is based on a film, which features an 11-year-old Jamie Bell giving one of the best child performances in film.

[the only reason this film is rated R is because of the use of swear words, otherwise it’s a PG film].

Elton John and company tell this story and takes the emotional beatsof the films and expanded them onto the stage. For example, here is the original “angry dance” from the film.

The film does things with the camera that you can’t do on stage, and there are things happening on stage that you simply can’t do in film. While it’s the same, it’s different. If you’ve seen the film, you can expect to feel the same emotional notes but in a completely different way.

If you haven’t seen the film, go rent it. It feels as good as the cheesy music in the trailer promises. It’s a great film, mature and smart (in some ways feels like a great sports films). If you’re a musical and you’re in Chicago you have to see Billy Elliot! C’mon, this show made me almost cry when Billy finally does a boy pirouette after weeks of practice.

There’s no greater compliment for a piece of art than to say that it makes you want to experience more art. Billy Eliot! not only makes you wish you could watch the whole musical all over again but it also makes you want to dance.


  1. "Billy Eliot! not only makes you wish you could watch the whole musical all over again "

    It sure does. I have now seen it in London, New York, Chicago, Melbourne and Sydney. 151 times and I am still in awe of this musical. Each and every Billy I have seen is brilliant and brings a different perspective to the character. At a minimum catch the four current Chicago Billy's. They are all different.

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