A powerful musical with a serious political message, that is joyously uplifting and entertaining at the same time.
The news footage sets the scene for Billy Elliot The Musical, which is located in the north-east of England during the bitter miner?s strike of 1984 ? 85. Based on the hit 2000 film. It tells the story of a 12-year old miner?s son who stumbles across a ballet class when he is supposed to be learning boxing, and dares to dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer despite financial hardship and the outright refusal of his disgusted father and brother.
While Billy?s dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson hopes for a better future for him, having recognised his talent, the working-class community in which they both live is in crisis as pit closures threaten the life of the town. Solidarity and community clash with the need for individuality, difference and tolerance.
Elton John?s music has just the right popular feel and simple emotional power, moving from lyrical ballads to tough, ballsy numbers that pulse with aggression and anger.
One memorable scene follows another. There?s a moving scene, when Billy dances with his older self, and try not to cry in the number Electricity in which Billy tries to express what he feels when he dances before bursting into dancing flight?
The musical unashamedly pushes emotional buttons with such truthfulness that I had tears flowing more than once, including when Billy and Mrs Wilkinson read a letter from Billy?s dead mother.
The cast of the current production does great justice to the show. The children play a large, vital role. Jamie Rogers, who played Billy on opening night (one of four boys who will share the role) brings a wonderfully down-to-earth quality to the character, capturing the tough bravado that Billy has had to develop, while deftly conveying his emotions and his longing for his mother.
Kelley Abbey is a knockout as the hard-bitten, terse Mrs Wilkinson, who is perpetually clad in tacky, colourful outfits, with a cigarette in hand. As a former dancer herself, and a choreographer, she is a perfect fit for the role, and nails the character?s tough exterior, standing her ground no matter who confronts her.
Among the other children performing on opening night, Gabrielle Daggar exudes oodles of droll humour as Mrs Wilkinson?s daughter Debbie, while James Sonnemann is a delight as Michael. The ensemble, meanwhile, is terrific across the board.
The show also rings true at a time where inequity is growing in Australia and people on welfare are treated as collateral damage. And though there is, of course, a push to close coal mines in the face of a climate change crisis, it?s all about treating the workers equitably and with humanity, and finding them new jobs.
It?s a beautiful musical full of complicated human emotion; a show with a serious political message but one that is joyously uplifting and entertaining at the same time.
Picture credit: James D. Morgan
Billy Elliot The Musical is playing at Sydney Lyric Theatre until 15th of December 2019. https://billyelliotthemusical.com.au