TR Robertson ….The multi-award winning musical, “Billy Elliot”, currently on the Spreckels Theatre stage left no doubt, for those in attendance on opening night, why this musical almost swept the 2009 Tony Awards ceremony for the 15 nominations it received. The musical, based on the 2000 film by Stephen Daldry with screen play by Lee Hall, featured a varied musical score by Sir Elton John. Audience members are taken through the highs and lows of a young Northern England boy as he tries to deal with a love for dance, a social setting in the depths of a crippling strike in the 1980’s and a home life that was less than ideal.
The musical premiered at Victoria Palace Theatre in London in 2005 and in 2008 on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre. It was nominated for 9 Laurence Olivier Awards, winning 4 including Best Musical, nominated for 15 Tony’s, winning 10 including Best Musical, Best Lighting, Best Choreography and Best Scenic Design and nominated for 10 Drama Desk Awards. The musicals background centers around the 1984-85 United Kingdom’s coal miner’s strike in County Durham, North Eastern England. The screenplay for the movie was inspired by AJ Cronin’s 1935 novel about a miner’s strike, The Stars Look Down. The musicals beginning and opening song set the tone and background for this event.
Photos by Ken Jacques
The San Diego Musical Theatre co-produced “Billy Elliot” with the California Ballet Company. The large 37 member cast and 13 member orchestra presented an energized, emotional and wonderfully choreographed interpretation on stage with rousing applause from the sold-out audience after many of the dance numbers.
The large set designs on stage depicted entrances to mines, dance studios, meeting halls and Billy’s home. Timely and colorful lighting help pin point different moments in Billy and his family’s life. The musical is directed by Neil Dale, from Liverpool, choreographed by Jared Nelson who is also the Associate Artistic Director of California Ballet in San Diego, music director Don LeMaster who is the resident musical director for SDMT and lighting designs by Christina Martin. Also assisting Dale are Janet Pitcher with costumes, Peter Herman with hair and wig designs, David Medina Property Master and Kevin Anthenill Sound Designer. Newcomer Margaret Kayes is the Stage Manager. For this musical, set in Norther England, one of the most critical members of the Production & Artistic Team is English-born Vanessa Dinning, who worked with the cast as the Dialect Coach for the difficult Northern English dialect..
An extremely impressive cast was led by first time performer, 10 year old Charlie Garton as Billy Elliot, in his first professional role. Charlie is a Solana Beach resident, who attends Del Mar Pines School, and who almost turned down the role. Instead, Garton has soared in his performance as the young boy caught between his love of dance, the death of his mother, a father and brother that want no part of the world of dance and the cloud of a mining strike that will affect everyone around him. Garton’s stage presence makes him a natural, his love of dance can be seen in the variety of dance styles he is required to perform and he brings both a touching and comical feel to his role.
Playing Billy’s father is veteran theatre and television actor Doug Tompos who brings a powerful interpretation to the conflicted father. Joy Yandell plays Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy’s dance instructor, who introduces Billy to the world of dance. She becomes an audience favorite with a biting, funny wit and great dance routines. Luke Monday plays Tony Elliot, Billy’s brother. Monday is making his SDMT debut as the passionate brother. Alexandra Gonzales, also making her SDMT debut, plays Billy’s surly Grandma.
The musical is built around a number of dance numbers which cover the range of dance styles, from jazz to tap to ballet to abstract. Billy’s frustration at his family’s rejection of his chance for an audition with the London Royal Ballet is shown in a dance filled with passion and fury, “Angry Dance”. A more humorous dance routine is performed by Garton and MacKernan Jarman, who plays Billy’s gay friend Michael, when they don dresses and tap dance to “Expressing Yourself”, along with several large headless, dress wearing mannequins. Donny Gersonde, as Mr. Braithwaite the piano accompanist for Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy and Mrs. Wilkinson perform a funny, energetic, fast paced routine to “We Were Born to Boogie”.
But, perhaps the absolute most memorable dance routine was performed by Garton and Zachary Guthier, who plays the adult Billy in a dream scene, when they perform a beautiful ballet routine to “Swan Lake” in the Dream Ballet scene. This had audience members saying what an amazing performance Charlie Garton was presenting, considering this is his first professional acting experience. Garton stayed in step and movement with Guthier, who is a former member of the Los Angeles Ballet and currently a soloist with the California Ballet as well as a recipient of a Rudolph Nureyev scholarship. Billy says he loves to dance because “It makes me feel free, like there is an electricity inside and the feeling is impossible to hide”. This routine clearly shows that.
The language borders on an R rating, but many of the words were a little hard to decipher and hear in the Northern English style, but this musical is about a hard time for hard people. The incorporation of the ballet girls from the California Ballet and the large adult ensemble, along with other cast members for many of the routines provided a great contrast on stage and made for an enjoyable performance in numbers like “Solidarity”.
“Billy Elliot” runs until October 8th. Tickets can be purchased at www.sdmt.org or call 858-560-5740. Next up for SDMT is the return of “Miracle on 4th Street” for the holidays, beginning November 24th. The historic Spreckels Theatre is located at 121 Broadway in downtown San Diego.