Elton John says that seeing the premiere of the film, Billy Elliot, at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, changed his life. He was so drawn to the story of one boy's journey to make his dreams come true that he composed the score for the award-winning musical based on the movie. Set in County Durham, UK, during the area's historic mid-1980's coal miners' strike, Billy Elliot the Musical won ten Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 2009 on Broadway. It's easy to see why critics and audiences alike were won over by the rousing musical numbers, inspirational message, and exuberant dancing.
At first, Billy's rough-hewn, working-class family and neighbors disapprove of the boy's desire to dance, and their discouragement causes Billy to give up his ballet lessons. But the child's obvious talent shines through, finally convincing his dad that he needs to give him the help he needs to audition for a place at the Royal Ballet School in London.
Although Billy's future looks bright once he learns to let his light shine, the ending of the drama is poignant and bittersweet, because of the hopelessness of the striking miners' plight. As Billy sets off for London, his glowing expectations are in sharp contrast to the dreariness of the lives of his family and friends that he's leaving behind. England's conservative, anti-Union government, led by Margaret Thatcher (who is vilified in this production), has succeeded in crushing their spirits and will eventually extinguish their way of life completely.
Young Billy is played by four separate lads in this touring production, now electrifying the stage at Kansas City's Music Hall. Drew Minard starred in Tuesday night's production, and his performance was nothing short of magical. He not only danced across the stage, but he boogied, he hip-hopped, he tapped, he cartwheeled, and he soared! His voice was strong and pure, and he put a lot of emotion and soul into his singing. The role of Billy seemed to fit him like a glove.
Also in the touring production, two boys share the role of Michael, Billy's best friend, who just happens to enjoy dressing up in girls' dresses. Tuesday night's performance featured Jake Kitchin, who handled the part with aplomb, drawing big laughs from the audience with his boisterous, over-the-top reactions to wearing a tutu. The character of Michael is very much comfortable in his own skin and tries to convince Billy to "express himself" and not worry about what others think.
Performances from the other cast members are uniformly stellar, with not a "dud" in the bunch, but special recognition must be given to Rich Hebert as Billy's Dad, who makes the crusty old miner's transformation look entirely believable.
Although she's dead before the musical's opening lines, Billy's mum (played very capably by Molly Garner) is very much a part of this production, and her words to Billy in a letter she wrote before she died also encourage the boy to "be true to yourself."
Hmmm...are you starting to recognize a pattern here? The show's message is to follow your heart, and you can fly!