BWW Review: BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL at Porchlight Music Theatre
Under the direction of frequent company collaborator Brenda Didier, BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL electrifies the mainstage at the Ruth Page Performing Arts Center, Porchlight's new home. Based on the eponymous film about an adolescent boy from a working class British mining town who aspires to be a ballet dancer, this production finds the deep emotional core in its story about community and acceptance. With music by Elton John and book and lyrics by Lee Hall, this BILLY ELLIOT bursts with heart and passion.
Though the production and choreography (co-choreographed by Didier and Craig V. Miller) can feel unfocused in moments (perhaps sometimes intentionally so), it does not detract from the emotional center of the work. In Lincoln Seymour (who alternates the role with Jacob Kaiser), Porchlight has found a Billy who gives this musical real and raw emotional stakes. Seymour acts the part with a fierceness and emotional vulnerability that allows the piece to soar. Importantly, he also proves that he's a gifted dancer, which drives home the character's aspirations of pursuing a career in the ballet. Seymour not only executes the dance moves with precision and grace but lends them an emotionality that heightens his performance. Though he is a dancer who sings rather than the other way around, Seymour also feels the lyrics of each of his songs so deeply that it still works on the whole. Seymour's take on Billy's 11 o'clock number "Electricity" is a heartwrenching, beautiful moment. I was absolutely tearing up.
Seymour is supported by a superlative cast of 34 players who bring this musical's emotional center to life. The always excellent Sean Fortunato shines in the role of Billy's gruff father, who is still keenly grieving the loss of his wife. Though Fortunato presents an appropriately hardened exterior, he takes his character's arc to its full depth-particularly when he must decide whether to shun or embrace what he considers an unusual activity for his son to pursue. Adam Fane also hits the right notes as Billy's older brother Tony and brings a fiery dedication to all of his scenes. Iris Lieberman adds humor to this melancholy piece as Billy's eccentric Grandma, and her timing is immaculate. As Billy's best friend, Michael, Peyton Owen is nothing short of delightful, and he makes the number "Expressing Yourself" a highlight. Shanésia Davis finds the balance between tough dance teacher and warm mentor as Billy's ballet instructor Mrs. Wilkinson. The ensemble work is solid throughout the production, and the actors collectively give a needed sense of community.
Porchlight's BILLY ELLIOT ignites emotional sparks from start to finish, embracing the musical's more serious themes of working class challenges and government oppression, while also emphasizing the joyous message of discovering one's identity. And if the curtain call doesn't leave you with a huge smile, it's quite possible nothing will. BILLY ELLIOT finds all the emotionally resonant notes and makes them dance.
Photo by Austin Packard