Fathom Events' "Billy Elliot": Tutu Twain

  Screened at Showcase Cinemas, Dedham, MA & other theaters; Encore at 7pm Tues. Nov.18th

Liam Mower & Elliot Hanna in and  (both) as "Billy Elliot"
(photo: Fathom Events)
There’s a magical moment (one of many) in the musical “Billy Elliot” when there occurs a dream sequence in which the young Billy dances a pas de deux with his older self. It was even more amazing in the recent HD broadcast of this work when Elliot Hanna, currently portraying the title role, danced this number with the now mature Liam Mower, the original Billy from the phenomenal London success in 2005. It was previously lauded as an Oscar-nominated non-musical film in 2000, and subsequently in 2008 as a Broadway musical, winning ten Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and ten Drama Desk Awards, also including Best Musical. It ran in New York for over three years. Now it’s enjoying yet another success with an HD broadcast of a performance from London’s Victoria Palace recorded this past September 28th ; it made history as the first ever event cinema broadcast that was the number one box office hit in the U.K. And what an event, as it included over two dozen actors who have played the title role in a mash-up finale.

The story, adapted from the film by Lee Hall (who also wrote the lyrics) from his own screenplay, featuring a musical score by Elton John, concerns the 1984 miners’ strike in a Northeastern England mining town in County Durham. It centers around the tale of the young Billy who transitions from the boxing ring into a ballet class, with understandingly fierce initial reactions from the workers from his blue-collar neighborhood. Billy Elliot (the remarkably talented Hanna) finds support in his dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson (Ruthie Henshall), his brother Tony (Chris Grahamson), Billy’s best friend Michael (Zach Atkinson) and his Grandma (the showstopping Ann Emery repeating her role from 2005); eventually, even his working-class Dad (Deka Walmsley) is won over. As is the audience, especially whenever Henshall, Hanna and Atkinson take the stage.

The story is a strong one, but the score is what really makes this “Billy” soar, from the rousing “Once We Were Kings” (“we all go together when we go”), to the exhilarating paean to performance, “Electricity” (“I really can’t explain it, I haven’t got the words…it’s like forgetting , losing who you are, and at the same time something makes you whole”) to the anthem “The Stars Look Down”, a reference to the A. J. Cronin novel which inspired this tale (“and the stars look down and know the pain and…lead to where the light shines again, where we‘ll stand as one”). Then there’s the unforgettably hilarious turn by Billy and his buddy Michael (“If you wanna be a dancer, dance…what we need is in-div-id-ual-ity”), the most life-affirming number in many a year. Hanna is stupendous throughout the show, but briefly meets his match in the person of Atkinson. Never has dancing in the aisles been more tempting.

This production, directed by the original helmer Stephen Daldry, and re-directed for film by Brett Sullivan, looks fabulous on the big screen. The Set Design by Ian MacNeil (notoriously temperamental in its New York previews) is as wondrous as ever, with fine Costume Design by Nicky Gillibrand, intricate Lighting Design by Rick Fisher, and effective Sound Design by Paul Arditti. Of course, the crucial Choreography by Peter Darling is as stunning as it gets. With a technical crew this great, backing up a cast full of talent, musical theaters is alive and (literally) kicking.

Thus it was great news to hear of the HD broadcast on this side of the pond. Even better news: if you missed it this time around, never fear. As noted above, it’s being repeated on Tuesday November 18th at, as the saying goes, a theater near you.

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