Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Show & Tell Review: Billy Elliot the Musical

Written by Lori

Billy Elliot the Musical opened last night at the Fox Cities P.A.C. The story begins in a small town, in Northern England in 1984. It is raw in language, devoid of color, and fierce with loyalty to the unions that kept the characters alive. 

As described by Director Stephen Daldry, “What appealed to me most about doing the show was to have the opportunity to delve into the miners’ strike. That strike was one of the most important events in my life, as well as in domestic village politics. It’s not possible to exaggerate the cultural flowering that happened during that year in the pit villages. There was a real shift in consciousness for everybody involved in those villages, which is part of the sadness of the whole story. Because something extraordinary happened – and then it was wiped out as they shut down the pits. So we wanted to talk about the community and the family as much as Billy in the musical. The strike bookends the show. The theater lends itself to big, working-class anthems of struggle and loss. You can present that in a much more believable and moving way onstage than on film.”  

“The Stars Look Down” spoke of the emotion of a community facing the loss of everything that defined them. We are brought to the poignant “We’d Go Dancing,” where memories are better than reality in the time of change. As the town demands loyalty to the union, the anger that energizes the strike in “Solidarity” is fierce and in your face. In a community that embraces the harsh, overbearing male role model, with furtive excitement, two boys explore cross dressing in “Expressing Yourself.” Our young star, Billy, shows his sensitivity and heartache of losing his “mum” in “Dear Billy”and his rebellion against his father’s demand that he give up dancing in “Angry Dance." 

The first act made me squirm, yet I was amazed at the talent of Billy played by Ty Forhan. That young man was on the stage most of the time. His every move was portraying the character and emotion of the scene in which he played. His dancing was amazing for one so young. It was fun to see the way Billy’s character was formed through the choreography. From the stressed beginner in over his head at his first dance class, to the passionate dancer at the end, the development of his character shined through. 

Act II begins with “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher,” a rebellion against authority, sung with much profanity and many finger gestures against her rule. Rich Hebert was solid in creating the scene “Deep Into the Ground” and “He Could Go and He Could Shine” as he portrayed a man who learns a heart of understanding towards his son. The choreography was interestingly masculine for the “non dancer” characters. I had never thought of drunken stumbling as a form for choreography. The story of the journey from the beginnings of the British National Union of Mineworkers strike, to the anguish and remorse of becoming a “scab” in order to provide for his boy, was very well told.  

While it was painful to watch the anger and ridicule of his family not accepting Billy’s desire to dance, I was relieved to see the resolution in the second act of Dad deciding to support Billy in his passion. The music defined the emotion of the story. The choreography demonstrated the characters and the story line. Overall, it was an interesting view of community and a family struggling with change.


  1. This is serious theater, and the best show that you will ever see. Be inspired and entertained. Do not miss this show.

  2. I took my 3 girls, ages 14, 12, and 8, to the Tuesday night show. I had season tickets and bought them for the other shows, but went to this just because I had the tickets. Regrettably, I did not read the reviews prior to going. I wish I had. The profanity used in the show was over the top, including the children using many s-bombs and at least one f-bomb. The most disappointing aspect was the glorification of the cross dressing scene. It was during that scene I decided to leave at the intermission. I had some explaining to do afterwards to my kids who were also surprised by the rawness of this show. I would not recommend it to anyone under 16, although I saw a lot of children there. Sorry, but this show wasn't for me.

  3. Lori, your reviews lack and depth or substance of the performances. If you are a reporter you do a good job - better than most who embellish the story to their point of view of an issue. If you are a critic then give me a critic's perspective of the talent, music, stage and production of the performance. I may not always agree with your critique but I like to hear what a critic has to say in comparison to my experience. FYI, we also walked out a intermission. Not because of the language. We were disappointed with quality of performances. This also was not our type of entertainment. We have been Broadway Series Subscribers here in Appleton for 8 years and before that in Milwaukee for 5 years. We are not always going to like a show. We have only left early on two occasions.

  4. Thank you for joining the discussion on Billy Elliot! Just a friendly reminder that our Show & Tell reviewers are not professional journalists or critics. They are community members just like you, volunteering their thoughts after seeing a show. For more information on the program, please visit ( Not every performance is to everyone tastes or appropriate for all ages, and the Center has some resources in place to help you decide which performances are right for you and your family. Look for content disclaimers on the Center’s website, or if you prefer to discuss specifics, please contact the Center’s ticket office at (920) 730-3760. Ticket agents are available to answer your questions throughout the season.

  5. I feel someone should point out the fact that cultural differences have a lot to do with the way the show is being presented. Believe it or not, the foul language has been seriously toned down since the show was in London and even, in some cases, since it's manifestation on Broadway in New York. The reason it has been toned down is because we, as American audiences, take great offense to hearing young children swear in such a strong way and also because we have such a problem with adults swearing AT children and so on. In the UK, things are different. In the '80s (when the story is set), it would have been considered funny (in most cases) for an adult to address a kid in such a way and nobody would've probably thought twice about children saying such things...unless they were aimed at an authority figure (like when Billy talks back to his father).

    My mother saw the show at one point and was able to enjoy the storyline despite the language (she is very conservative so the fact she liked ANY of it was a miracle to me!). I understand the concern of young children seeing the show and think that's something that every parent has to decide for themselves. But the story of a young boy daring to dream and fighting to prove himself is one that I think we can all learn from or empathize with. The show has many fun moments and some very serious moments as well and is quite well presented.

    Again, not every show is for everyone...which is why I always tell my friends to do their homework before attending a show. Get on YouTube and listen/look to/at clips from other productions to get a feel for the story/songs. You'll know pretty quick if what you're seeing/hearing is to your taste. It saves you a lot of money in ticket costs and will ensure that your theatre experience is (for the most part) the best it can be!

    Just my two cents.