“The transfer of musicals from film to Broadway has a spotty history,” said Joe Dziemianowicz in the New York Daily News. But Billy Elliot, based on the 2000 film and with music by Elton John, “is that rare production—one that brings all the elements together and creates a fresh emotional experience.” The show, which was a hit in London, concerns a scrawny kid in a depressed British mining town who prefers ballet flats to boxing gloves. Young Billy’s miner father and older brother disapprove of his unmanly goal of becoming a dancer. But his transcendent talent predictably prevails. Director Stephen Daldry can’t avoid the clichés of such against-the-odds inspirational tales. To his credit, though, he fills the show’s three hours with “plenty of drama about family, class, poverty, politics, and the power of dreams.”
“The timing of the production’s arrival here, with the United States newly chastened by financial woes, gives it a resonance it might not have had” a few years ago, said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. Billy Elliot is a “hard-times musical,” but also an “honest tear-jerker.” By painstakingly portraying Billy’s personal and artistic obstacles, Daldry makes the audience “understand the depth of the classic show-business fairy tale.” The sublime Hadyn Gwynne plays Billy’s chain-smoking dance teacher, who early on sees in the lad the spark of greatness. The title role is so rigorous that it’s played by three different teenagers on alternating nights. On opening night, the role belonged to the excellent David Alvarez, whose dancing captured Billy’s brave character.
“The biggest surprise may be the music,” said Thom Geier in Entertainmentweekly.com. The show “doesn’t sound like an Elton John musical.” It has none of the bombast on display in, say, Aida or The Lion King. The surprising range of songs includes the angry “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher” and the affecting ballad “The Letter.” Not all the numbers are smash successes, but it’s good to see John both “working, and flourishing, well outside his comfort zone.”
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 7 ways to be the most interesting person in any room
- Colorado’s new ‘drive high, get a DUI’ commercials are actually pretty clever
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline
- Ukraine's fraught relationship with Russia: A brief history
- Why is American internet so slow?
- 22 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Who are the real gay marriage bigots?
- Sorry Belle Knox, porn still oppresses women
- Religious liberty should be a liberal value, too
Subscribe to the Week