Thursday, January 3, 2008

New Year's Day: Billy Elliot the Musical

I wasn’t all that impressed with the movie when it originally came out. I think I was in the midst of Interlochen and all of that business with “Am I a musician?” and there was some scene at the beginning where Billy was banging out a tune on the piano and I got miffed that they weren’t giving him music lessons and that sort of spoiled the rest of the movie for me.

When I was in London last April Billy Elliot the musical was sort of on my radar. The theatres for Billy Elliot and Wicked are across the street from each other and away from the rest of the West End, so I knew it existed and I remember hearing good things about it, maybe I read a review in Time Out? I don’t remember, but I do know that when Andy and Nancy showed up it was one of the shows I requested to see even though, you know, the movie had miffed me.

Anyhow, whatever the movie- the show was AMAZING. I spent the first half hour of the show with my jaw literally hanging open. It opens with this totally powerful anthem and oh, am I a sucker for anthems. And the choreography! Inspired, awesome, powerful, abstract, and direct. The cast is split about 50/50 gender wise- but the men are all adults and most of the girls are around 12 years old and in Billy’s dance class. The girls are funny. They bumble around a lot until there is a dance with the whole cast and then you understand that they were cast because they can dance.

There is this one scene where the police and the striking miners are clashing and that scene is happening at the same time as Billy’s dance class and the entire cast is weaving in and out and suddenly all the girls are lifted into the air by the miners and there are chairs being passed overhead and then the police and the miners are sitting in a row passing their hats down the row- that is a very poor description of a very cool dance.

The music is phenomenal- so good that I went out and bought the CD during the intermission, which is when I figured out that Elton John had written the score. He’s good, I gotta say. There was one song where Billy had brought a letter to his dance teacher that his mother had written to him before she died. Billy begins singing it and then passes it to the dance teacher who sings it as a duet with his mother and then the mother finishes the song by herself. Every single mother in the audience was crying. Audibly. The woman next to me sniffled through the whole song and then during the reprise as well.

The song that made me start crying is when the Billy’s father is about to cross the picket line and go back down to the coal mines in order to pay for the bus ticket to London for Billy’s audition. He gets stopped by the rest of the miners who won’t let him lose his integrity like that and there is all this pain in the song because he doesn’t understand what his son is doing and he knows he needs to support him and give him a chance to get out of the town that is so clearly dying and the only thing that he can think of to do to help his son is to go against everything that he himself and his community stand for.

I laughed, I cried, I had my breath taken away by the dancing. Oh yeah, and the whole thing is carried by a 12 year old boy. He had to dance in a bunch of different styles (dance very well), sing, act well enough to have an entire show hang on his shoulders, and do all of this before puberty. I was totally impressed, and don’t think I’ve ever seen such a heavily muscled 12 year old before. There are 5 Billys actually because child labor laws mean they can’t do more than two shows a week or something like that. Think about this though- that means that they didn’t just find and train *1* boy who could carry this show- they found *5* (Only one of them per show though, they don’t switch half way through or anything like that.)

Okay, actually I am listening to the sound track again while writing this and I can’t listen to more than one song at a time because I get so worked up over them. Elton John, be my friend please? I really like your work.

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