Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dead Mum?! How was i SUPPOSED to react?

Tuesday night I went to see Billy Elliot.

(Actual Billys in the production not pictured.)

Billy Elliot is... worth seeing! The dancing and the staging and the sets are are amazing. It's totally beautiful, with the potential of moving audience members to tears. That alone is worth the price of admission. The rest of the play is a bit uneven in its execution, but I don't think you'll walk away caring about it too much. It's Billy Elliot. You've come to see the kid dance "BAAA-lee" and dance BAA-lee he does with amazing energy and finesse.

The uneveness comes from the show's book, singing and acting. It's not that some of the cast are amazing and some are not so good. It's that the whole cast has moment's of brilliance and then other moments that really miss. It's still in previews mind you, and I'm sure some of that will be ironed out as they head toward their actual opening. The book is a little too long. It does not take 3 hours to tell this story, but maybe there is all that padding to give the kid a little time to catch his breath before he has to dance his butt off again.

If you don't know the story, it's basically about this kid named Billy Elliot who lives in a coal mining town in the early 80's in Britain that's about to crushed under the iron will of Maggie Thatcher. His mom is dead, his brother and father work in the mine and are involved in a messy miner's strike and Billy happens to fall in love with BAA-leee, instead of boxing. He's got amazing potential, but can his dad and the community in general spare the time and money to help one kid make good, while the rest of them lose everything they have? The answer is yes, but the path is not easy.

The cast is huge and the children almost outnumber the adults, but it's easy enough to keep the character's straight. I guess it would be even easier to follow if you're a big fan of the movie. I haven't seen the Billy Elliot movie in years, and wasn't always interested in learning about the miner's strike during the stage version. The townfolk were painted a little broadly and not given a lot of characterization during the group scenes.

But now allow me a minute on Dead Mum. This would be Billy's Mum, who is dead, and that is how she is referred to in the playbill. Dead Mum and Billy have two songs together and they are both lovely, however I leave you with this warning. If your mother ever wrote you letters as she was dying in real life, perhaps these songs will open difficult emotional recesses of your psyche. They did for me. I cried and cried. Crying is fine. There's nothing wrong with being moved emotionally. But Dead Mum, her message to Billy and his message back to her, really just drove a truck through the emotional defenses I've built up over the past 10 years and had me really in an emotional state. It's not a reason not to see the show, just considered yourselves forewarned.

ALSO: These kids are just kids and I feel you should respectfully leave them alone after the performance. The Billy from our performance (three young actors alternate the role) happened to walk out the stage door as we were leaving and he was visibly (and understandably) totally exhausted. And here come the autograph hounds trying to get him to sign autographs as he's barely got the sense to look for his mom in the crowd. Back the eff off, people. Your aggression is totally inappropriate. If it looks like the kid is about to fall over, just vocally congratulate him and move on.

There's a really interesting article in New York magazine about the production and the young cast. Here's a link:

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