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.