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Billy Elliot – Seattle, March 31, 2011 by YFA

Billy Elliot

I went to see the touring production of Billy Elliot at the Paramount last night with a certain level of expectation. For one, Billy Elliot is the 2009 Tony Award winner for Best Musical (total of 10 Tony Awards). Two, music is by Elton John. Three, it is highly recommended by my fellow musical-watcher here in Seattle (you know who). So I went in expecting awesomeness.

The backdrop of the story is the 1984 coal miner’s strike in UK, which is not something I’m horribly familiar with – although I’m somewhat familiar with Margaret Thatcher and her governing policies. In that sense, the theme of class warfare lightly woven through the musical is interesting to me. On the other hand, since the musical is set in Northern England, the accent is quite extreme – I never realized there’s the British accent and then there’s the British accent before, to a point that in the musical the British made fun of each other’s accents (I guess it is not too absurd – Americans make fun of each other’s accents too).

The main plot of the story deals with a young teenager (Billy) who strives to be a ballet dancer. So naturally there’s a lot of dancing involved in this musical – a LOT of dancing, from ballet to tap dancing. The choreography is definitely the best and most notable part of the musical. The individual dancing sequences by Billy as well as the bigger ensemble song and dance are equally entertaining and enjoyable. In fact the dancing is so physically demanding and injury prone, this touring company features 4 “Billy’s” that rotate throughout the week. (So chances are if you go and rewatch the show, you’ll get a different Billy. Oh and one of them is Asian, though I didn’t get him). Outside of the choreography, the set design is quite elaborate and creative as well.

However, the strength of the dance is also its weakness I feel like. The musical is so dance centric that I feel like the dance numbers drive the plot and character development rather than the music (it is a musical and not a “dancical” after all). Oftentimes the characters express their emotions through the dance rather than music. The music is above average but nothing super outstanding, and there weren’t a lot of songs either (I think ~14 songs across both acts). The actors were definitely cast for their dance abilities rather than the vocal skills, and especially for the numbers where they sing and dance at the same time (admittedly a challenging feat) the vocal weakness really shows. The plot is also pretty straightforward and for whatever reason, not something I associate well with and hence I didn’t find it super emotional.

All in all, not a bad musical, just not my cup of tea I guess. 3.5 TP rolls for me:

P.S. There should be a current production of this playing in Toronto’s Canon Theatre right now.
P.P.S I think “Next to Normal” definitely made 5 star for me – a few of its songs were stuck in my head on my recent travels – hallmark of a good musical!


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