BWW Review: Vintage Theatre's BILLY ELLIOT is Empowering
Typically I'm not one to love shows filled with children. Hate me, whatever.
But the kids (and the adults, too) in Vintage Theatre's Billy Elliot The Musical are pumping this show full of the kind of electricity it deserves.
Billy Elliot, based on the 2000 film, was a smash when it hit both West End and Broadway, featuring music by Elton John and book and lyrics by Stephen Daldry. It's story of a young boy who discovers a love for dance amidst a mid-1980s coalminer's strike in Northeast England's County Durham. While Billy's father prefers him to be into boxing, eventually the entire community comes together to stand behind Billy's dream.
Directed by Bernie Cardell, the show does a great job at explaining the hardships that came along with the actual miner's strike that took place in 1984-85. While Billy's story is the central action, what plays alongside it is an important piece of history, showcased with genuine artistry.
Kaden Hinkle plays Billy with a remarkable relatability. His scenes with his dead mother (played by Becca Fletcher) were honest and moving, and his anger was layered with passion when he fought for his dream. He gave Billy a charm that brought his character to a level that made me understand him, which is essential to the story.
Benji Dienstfrey portrayed Billy's friend Michael, and he brought the kind of energy I wish I saw from more adults on stage. His number alongside Billy, "Expressing Yourself," was pure joy, and his moments of discovery and growth in the character were truly outstanding. I'm gonna keep my eye on this kid. (He's on for Billy at select performances.)
Billy's dad is portrayed with some beautiful subtleties by Andy Anderson. Billy's dance teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson, played by Adrianne Hampton, is just as tempestuous as you'd like with a good heart. Kris Graves steals every single moment as the "over-it" Mr. Braithwaite, Wilkinson's assistant. Deb Persoff is delightful as always as Billy's grandma. BrIan Robertson brought vigor to Billy's brother, Tony.
The rest of the ensemble is strong, taking excellent choreography by Gina Enslinger and Andrew Bates and pouring their hearts into it. The young girls in Billy's ballet class were filled with energy and the kind of sass I love. "Solidarity" was a standout, blending the ballet into the miner's strike with picturesque ease. I thought the Billy's "angry dance" was just that, but I'm not sure what exactly it lacked for me.
The simplistic set design by Christopher Waller added a lot of levels to the production and worked well for Vintage's intimate space. Susan Rahmsdorff's costumes, packed with denim and plaid, represented a small mining community in 1980s rural England pretty well. Music Director Blake Nawa'a led a terrific band of musicians.
There's some great relevant power in the message in Billy Elliot. An exuberance comes with standing up for what you believe in and banding together in a community, and you feel that when you leave the theatre. That's something we could all use right now.
Billy Elliot The Musical plays Vintage Theatre (1468 Dayton St. in Aurora) though March 19. Tickets are available at VintageTheatre.org. And make sure to stop by their bar and visit my buddy David.