BWW Review: BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL at Des Moines Community Playhouse
The Des Moines Community Playhouse opened up its 100th season Friday evening with great fanfare, new renovations, and the much anticipated "Billy Elliot, the Musical."
The Playhouse's moving production of "Billy Elliot" highlights that against all odds, destiny has a way of shining through. With touching music and lyrics by legendary singer-songwriter Elton John alongside lyricist Lee Hall, this musical has humor, heart, and a solid cast, that include stars Asher Ekhardt and Uzay Hasanusta, who share the lead role of Billy.
What makes "Billy Elliot the Musical" so fascinating is that it not only depicts such a pivotal chapter in Billy's life, but hones in on both the sweetness and tough lessons of growing up, set against the peril of UK's historic Miner's Strike during the 1980's. This is a story of a coal miner's son who is sent to a boxing class led by Darren Grote, who delivers a convincing, comical performance as George. At a boxing class, Billy discovers his true passion in a surprising way.
From the imaginative, creative choreography designed by Megan Helmers to the brightly colored dancing props, the set and special effects are impressive, but never outshine the fiery talent onstage. With terrific dance numbers such as "Solidarity" and "Angry Dance" that pack an emotional punch, "Billy Elliot" boasts a praiseworthy cast of adorable children and adults, all with determined, fighting spirits. At the center of the show on opening night was Asher Eckhardt as a quiet but determined Billy Elliot. With a distinct Geordie accent, Eckhardt's sheer command of the stage is remarkable. Not only does he show emotional depth that belies his thirteen years, he also masters demanding choreography, navigating from hostile, lunging turns to graceful leaps effortlessly. He is truly a sight to behold. Ryan Henzi as Michael also gives an entertaining performance. He is irrepressibly charming in every way and he and Billy have a sweet-natured friendship.
Michael Davenport portrays Dad's tough exterior with a sharp tongue and a somber demeanor which evolves into a complex, deeply emotional performance, especially during "He Could Be a Star." Mary Bricker's sassy, sweet, and unapologetically blunt portrayal as Grandma is a joy to watch, delivering much needed humor in this production. Rachel Meyer portrays dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson. She spouts out commands like a drill sergeant and is fun to watch with the kids ensemble in the number, "Shine" and later in "Born to Boogie." Mrs. Wilkinson's daughter Debbie, played by Tatum Lowell, adds a spitfire performance, particularly in any scenes involving her nemesis, Billy.
With its high emotional content, theatricality, and emphasis on young performers and individual expression, this is the perfect season opener for the Des Moines Community Playhouse, which runs October 5-28. Don't miss out on the "electricity!"