The national tour of "Billy Elliott" dances into Naples for a six-night run at the Philharmonic. The show thrills, but never quite forges the intense emotional connection it so obviously labors toward. While dazzling ballet sequences and soaring lyrics wow, they feel ever so slightly mechanical.
Adapted from the 2000 film of the same name, Elton John wrote the show's music. Original screenwriter Lee Hall wrote the book and lyrics. Hall's stage version hews closely to the film, with its tale of a young English boy in a coal mining town discovering his talent for ballet and daring to dream of getting out.
I wish I could say that "Billy Elliott" provides the same moving rush of emotion that sweeps through its parent film. It doesn't. Instead, the show resembles a calculated, commercial behemoth designed to bombard audiences into submission with thundering choruses, moody atmosphere and a feel-good ending. The hope? No one in the crowd will notice the perfunctory story, grim set and sometimes baffling storyline.
Jamie Bell, aided by close-ups and other movie magic, brought unrivaled intensity to his celluloid Billy. Even live, that vitality feels difficult to duplicate. As much as I want to like the show, "Billy Elliott" never truly communicates the real passion of dance.
Impressive staging, much of it meant to accommodate the fact that the show uses a quartet of 12 and 13-year-old boys to play Billy, showcases the high-style quotient on display. An artful dance sequence features Billy (Drew Minard played the role Tuesday) and Christopher M. Howard spinning and leaping through an empty stage filled with smoke. Then, Minard's young Billy leaps onto a harness and truly flies. Beautiful and touching, but I wish it were less obviously manipulative.
Parts of the show deserve rapturous praise. The "Solidarity" number, which uses tiny tot schoolgirls in tutus to comment on the absurdity of violence in the 1984 British coal miner's strike, resonates with a particular quirky charm.
Janet Dickinson brings an electric tired, washed-up glamour puss flavor to her ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson. In a show that feels lifted from screen to stage, her portrayal feels a breath of fresh air. Minard brings charm to his Billy.I wish the dance sequences felt more lively, although a majestic series of pirouettes during "Electricity" convinced me I liked the show.
Moody. Impressive and grand. Dazzling in places. Music that might the soul. Dance that soars. Look for a smoky, spiraling sequence on a stage that will make you believe in the raw power of movement. Get lost in the lights of miner's helmets as they descend into the belly of the earth.
Chris Silk is the arts writer and theater critic for the Naples Daily News. To read the longer version of this review, go to: http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2013/feb/20/review-naples-philharmonic-billy-elliott/.
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Social media wizard, arts writer and theatre critic for Naples Daily News (@ndn). Starbucks devotee. Blogger & #sbuxdrama creator. Britcom lover. Snarky. +3 Twitter power. |
Chris began reviewing local theater performances for the Daily News during the fall of 2007. His first review was of Queen Latifah's slamming performance at the Philharmonic, while his favorite so far has been "Eagle Fruit," British playwright Terry Johnson's scream-and-leap blast of performance art for the spiritually deprived from the Laboratory Theater of Florida in December 2009.
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