BILLY ELLIOT:The Musical dances into San Francisco

Cast of Billy Elliot: The Musical playing at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco.
BILLY ELLIOT: The Musical. Music by Elton John, book and lyrics by Lee Hall, choreography by Peter Darling and direction by Stephen Daldry. Based on the 2000 Movie Billie Elliot. Orpheum Theatre (1192 Market Street at 8th), San Francisco, CA. 888-746-1799 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 888-746-1799 end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 888-746-1799 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 888-746-1799 end_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 888-746-1799 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 888-746-1799 end_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting or Through September 27, 2011

BILLY ELLIOT:THE MUSICAL showcases budding talented dancers

The trend of converting movies into stage musicals continues with Billie Elliot: The Musical being the most successful to date. The original low budget movie in 2000 took England and the world by storm becoming an award winning, popular sensation. The Elton John, Lee Hall musical with the added genius of choreographer Peter Darling and director Stephen Daldry up the ante creating in 2005 this musical that mostly charmed London critics gathering great acclaims wherever it played. The New York production in 2009 garnered 10 Tony Awards and this Carole Shorenstein Hays Best of Broadway production maintains an exceptional standard with a cast of 50 bringing great applause, smiles and tears to the audience on opening night.

There are two story lines of equal importance and the collaborators of this masterful production have given equal emphasis to both. The primary story of the title character, Billy Elliot, is a paean to perseverance in the face of adversity. Adolescent Billy Elliot accidentally discovers that his athletic ability is more attuned to ballet than to boxing. As he develops a passion for dance/ballet he encounters vehement resistance by his father, older brother and the community. However, the community unites to help Billy to attain his dream, proving that working people can appreciate art and have been maligned as philistines. It is 1984 and he is living in a small coal mining town in Northern England where striking coal miners are being assailed by policemen under the Margaret Thatcher regime. Early on, the plot lines are brilliantly amalgamated through dance with the strikers and policemen intertwining with the youthful ballet class in the intricate, powerful “Solidarity.”

The character of Billy is continually on stage, requiring not only that he dance but also to act, sing and perform gymnastics. Five boys are lined up for this grueling chore (Ethan Fuller, Kylend Hetherington, Lex Ishimoto, Daniel Russell) and on opening night J. P. Viernes, a local boy from Half Moon Bay, nails the role assuredly with dexterity and his wild dance sequences are a joy to behold. His “Swan Lake” dream sequence with the “older Billy”, played by the exceptional dancer Maximilien A. Baud, soars both in actuality and artistic endeavor. He also has a show stopper with his modern dance form late in act two with “Electricity.” Although Billy is not gay, his best friend Michael (Griffen Birney) is “fey” and a cross-dresser even in pre-pubescent years. In a deviation from the movie, and totally unexpected, the stage bursts in riot of color and dancing as Michael entices Billy into a “La Cage Au Faux” production number, “Expressing Yourself” complete with gorgeous scenery, catchy music as the stage fills with huge dancing dresses. It offers great comic relief from a potentially tense situation.

The entire show is a true ensemble effort and the veteran Broadway cast compliments each other. Faith Prince, a Tony Award winner for her role as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, has top-billing and does not disappoint. She plays Mrs. Wilkinson, the teacher of a second-rate ballet school who discovers the inherent talent of Billy arranging for an audition at the Royal Ballet in London. Her projection of a tough broad with heart wins the heart of the audience with her split-second, sometimes bawdy, remarks. Her brassy voice is perfect “Born to Boggie” sharing the stage with Billy and the piano accompanist Mr. Braithwaite (Patrick Wetzel) who gets his turn to dance receiving applause for his marvelous efforts.

There are more than a dozen youngsters who carry their roles with professional aplomb with exceptional ability. They must go un-named because they all, even the tiny skinny legged kid, meld into the ensemble configuration. Rich Hebert portrays Billy's Dad with deep sincerity and his Irish tenor voice hushes the audience with the deeply moving solo “Deep in the Ground.” Stage veteran Patti Perkins, playing the slightly off-kilter Grandma gets to sing a stinging almost hilarious “We’d Go Dancing” vowing that she would never get married again! Others deserving accolades are Jeff Kready as Billy's brother, Joel Blum as the boxing coach.

Just when you think the curtain call is over, the whole company takes part in a coda of fantastic dance and song. What a way to end the evening with further confirmation that this is a dancing masterpiece. Even as Ian MacNeil's ingenious scenic design becomes many different locales, he keeps the center stage free for the dances to expand and contract under the fantastic lighting design by Rick Fisher. You won’t be humming any tunes as you leave but your feet will surely be dancing.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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