Victoria Theatre, London
Prices in London have always been high, whether for real estate or Dover sole. Still a bargain by Broadway standards, London theatre prices might be a shock for anyone accustomed to prices of past decades. “Billy Elliot” was recently and justly regarded with a bevy of 10 Tony Awards in New York, but London theatergoers have been able to see this magnificent musical for four years. We had a parenting moment in preparing our daughters for the salty language of the show, but they inevitably claimed they had heard it all before. While possibly true, I doubt it had been delivered in such a coarse and colorful manner. I had some trepidation as to whether the production would attain the high expectations set by prior attendees, but indeed it exceeded my expectations.
Billy Elliot as performed by Oliver Gardner (photo by Alistair Muir)
The music by Elton John drove the story forward, and rarely acted as a diversion to the plot. The characters were well-drawn, with the titular role filled by five actors rotating through the schedule. There have been twenty Billy Eliot’s over the course of the musical’s run. We saw Ollie Gardner. He was of necessity a triple threat: actor, singer and dancer. Billy’s father was the focal point around which Billy’s evolution pivoted. Set in the north of England during the grey days of Thatcher’s reign, the crumbling power of the miners’ union adds to the angst of the men grappling with Billy’s poofter love of dance. The storyline makes clear that sexual orientation has nothing to do with Billy’s unexpected love of dance. His cross-dressing friend Michael is another story.
The laughs come steadily throughout the nearly three hour production, and the dance numbers are mesmerizing. The pas de deux when Billy dances with his decade older self is controversial due to the use of a wire. Although almost overused, the fly by wire motif lasts only a short time and manifests Billy’s stated feelings of soaring when he is fully in motion.
The younger and older Billy Elliot (photo by Alistair Muir)
Our parenting moments continued after the play when we talked about how the monolithic solidarity of the miners’ union was initially oppressive to someone like Billy, who did not want to follow the traditional path (learn to box, leave school, work in the mines). But it was also that same solidarity that came together and scraped up the money for Billy’s audition in London.
If you have the time or pounds for only one play in London, make Billy Elliot your choice.