Billy Elliot - The Musical
, as inspired by the 2000 film and now a long-running stage show, is Auckland Theatre Company's end-of- year musical and launches its new home at the ASB Waterfront Theatre.
It's an intriguing choice; Billy Elliot is a work of social commentary set in mid-1980s Thatcher's Britain, highlighting issues such as rising poverty and unemployment, homelessness, benefit cuts, and a long-running miners' strike. It is also an uplifting tale of a talented boy from a mining family who takes up ballet and gets a chance for a different future.
[Ed's note: ATC artistic director Colin McColl says he choose Billy Elliot because it mirrors the company's struggle to get its own theatre and the triumph of believing you can achieve your dream].
The show has terrific music by Elton John, with lyrics and book by Lee Hall. There is a memorable anthem built around the labour movement staple Solidarity, belted out with pride by the ensemble of 29, and deeply moving duets, Deep Into the Ground, sung with considerable emotion by Billy and his dad (Jaxson Cook* and Stephen Lovatt), and The Letter, sung by Billy, his ballet teacher, Mrs Wilkinson, (Jodie Dorday) and his dead mum (Lana MacFarlane). The eight member band, led by John Gibson, who are visible at the back of an extended depth stage, are for, the most part, terrific, too.
But I thought the characters came across as broad caricatures of hapless but defensive miners, downtrodden families, shrieking ballet girls, a loopy granny and a ballet teacher who gives class routines unlike any real class. Every now and then, the veneer cracked and an actor's interpretation got a chance to peek through and, at these moments, the whole thing started to come alive.
It meant, for me, the story was barely headlined and the social commentary absent - even though many of the issues are relevant right now in New Zealand - and there were only rare moments of insight into the lives of these people.
The kids are the stars of the show and they deliver what has been asked of them. They sing well, dance credibly, though, I thought, with less polish than you might expect, and give life to characters with whom they would seem to have very little in common.
Billy is rarely off stage, and his dancing definitely "improves" all the way through the show, in both solo and ensemble sections. But the best ensemble dancing is saved for the celebratory finale/ curtain call, with everyone in tap shoes.
• Three teams of two boys play Billy and Michael; on opening night, Jaxson Cook and Stanley Reedy performed. On other nights, you may see Harry Sills and Christian Swan or Ben Shieff and Daniel Bridgman.
What: Billy Elliot - The Musical
Where & when: ASB Waterfront Theatre, until November 27