BWW Reviews: Orange County Welcomes BILLY ELLIOT Back to So. California

BWW Reviews:  Orange County Welcomes BILLY ELLIOT Back to So. California

I first reviewed the national tour of BILLY ELLIOT - THE MUSICAL during its triumphant five-week stop at Hollywood's Pantages Theatre a year ago (which you can read HERE) and found it to be quite an entertaining, well-executed show. Now an entire year has passed and the show has finally returned to Southern California, this time playing at Costa Mesa's Segerstrom Center for the Arts through April 28. With many new actors in place performing the same show I enjoyed last year, I wanted to find out how this Tony Award-winning musical would come off to a fresh pair of eyes that has yet to see the stage adaptation.

Enter my friend and fellow creative colleague Robert Neale, who below offers "A Second Opinion" Review as a special guest columnist.

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By Guest Reviewer: Robert Neale

BILLY ELLIOT - THE MUSICAL could easily be mistaken for the story of the titular boy who wants to become a dancer. In fact, Billy Elliot (the character) is a dancer from the moment the curtain rises, even before he's danced a step. And the story is about his learning to become himself.

Billy (played by the impressive Mitchell Tobin during the show's Orange County press performance) sees everything through dance. When his Grandma tells him a story, the memories dance their way through the room. The police and striking coal miners of his native Northern England dance more than spar. And when Billy himself erupts in anger, it's with an explosion of visceral tap. It is in this last number that closes Act 1---the "Angry Dance"---when Billy begins to understand the lesson of his teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (Janet Dickinson, note-perfect as a brash but kind suburban teacher of 12-year old girls), that dance is not just the mere performing of steps, but an expression of who you are.

Billy's understanding of this nature of dance---and that he is, indeed, a dancer---reaches its apotheosis during his audition for the Royal Ballet School, where it seems he can't dance fast enough or hard enough to get the moves out of his soul and into his limbs.

Mr. Tobin, although only 12 years old, brings confidence and incredible ability to the role that must carry the entire musical. He convincingly portrays Billy's growth as a dancer; he's never too cute when he must seem like he can't do the steps, when it becomes all too clear, Mr. Tobin---the actor portraying Billy---can, actually, do almost anything. A second act duet, set to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and performed with an adult portraying the grown-up Billy (beautifully danced by Maximilien A. Baud) is a high point in the show, showcasing Mr. Tobin's skills and earning him one of several sustained ovations during the evening.

Rich Herbert (as Billy's Dad) is gruff, but clearly loves his son even if he doesn't quite understand him. His conversion is, however, sadly underwritten and comes across as a bit abrupt. Cullen R. Titmas (as Billy's brother Tony) and the delightful Patti Perkins (as Billy's Grandma) strike just the right notes to balance the drama and humor of the story. Molly Garner as Billy's Mum helps to make their two scenes together touching and keeps them from becoming too cloying.

The score by Elton John (music) and Lee Hall (lyrics) is varied and enjoyable, with old-fashioned Music Hall sounds ("Shine," "Expressing Yourself"), stirring anthems ("The Stars Look Down," "Once We Were Kings") and heart-tugging ballads ("Dear Billy," "Deep Into the Ground"). This is, for me, the finest of the four scores that Mr. John has written for the stage.

Stephen Daldry's direction is efficient and inventive, moving a large cast around Ian MacNeil's moveable set with fluidity and ease. The choreography by Peter Darling shows off the entire cast, and elicits more than one astonished gasp as the diminutive star taps, leaps and ultimately soars into the hearts of the audience.

An evening spent with Billy Elliot on stage is one that will see you leaping to your feet, cheering for the talented cast and pirouette-ing and jeté-ing up the aisle!

Photo of Mitchell Tobin as Billy by Amy Boyle. Courtesy of SCFTA.

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Performances of Billy Elliot - THE MUSICAL at Segerstrom Center for the Arts continue through Sunday, April 28. Tickets can be purchased online at www.SCFTA.org, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am). Segerstrom Center for the Arts is located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa.

For tickets or more information, visit SCFTA.org.

The tour moves on to the San Diego Civic Center from April 30 through May 5.


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