BWW Reviews: A Triumphant BILLY ELLIOT Comes to La Mirada Theatre
The ensemble effort of La Mirada Theatre/McCoy Rigby's cast of BILLY ELLIOT is an extraordinary accomplishment and especially resonant in a musical that is all about solidarity and overcoming the odds. It also has the kind of opening night story that wins hearts and shows how a company will rally like a family to manage an unexpected, even disastrous, event.
BILLY ELLIOT is already a challenging musical to cast. It requires a level of technical skill and emotional depth from its young star that you don't find every day. So I can only imagine what must have gone through producer Tom McCoy, director Brian Kite, and choreographer Dana Solimando's minds when the unthinkable happened.
The weekend before opening, the originally cast Noah Parets executed an acrobatic sequence during rehearsal, landed his moves, and said, "I think I broke my arm." He was quickly taken to the hospital and, yes, it was true. He had broken his arm and would be unable to perform. After the initial rush to make sure the young actor was alright, I'm sure the mad scramble began to figure out a plan B. These are the moments that give a producer a few more gray hairs and lot more sleepless nights, but it is also the kind of moment that shows how a can-do attitude will overcome even the biggest hurdle. I'm sure casting director Julia Flores was a great asset in this particular situation.
Luckily, another Billy from the National Tour, who had also performed the role in London, was able to get on a plane and head for LA. It had been five months since Mitchell Tobin had performed the role, and with only four days of rehearsal and new staging and choreography, he stepped into the production and gave a triumphant performance on opening night that went far beyond inspirational. It was full of passion, and grace, and the poise of a true professional. During curtain call, as the audience jumped to its feet in thunderous applause, the beaming smile on his face said it all.
The most significant stylistic element in the production is Kite and Solimando's integration of staging and choreography to achieve powerful images that give visceral punch to the storytelling. Three distinctly different groups of characters - the mineworkers, the young ballet students, and the police, continually move in and around each other to reflect the real world issues of the 1984 British Miners' Strike which was to become a defining moment in the country's history. It is impossible not to feel the tension and desperation of thousands of union workers as they rallied together in solidarity to protect their jobs against a government that was systematically working to break them, in Lee Hall's book & lyrics and Elton John's music.
Within this uncompromising world, Billy dares to dream of a different life by choosing ballet over boxing, and a chance to be an artist on stage rather than a miner underground like his father and brother before him.
These are flawed characters we can all recognize with weaknesses and issues, integrity and strength. Vicki Lewis is wonderful as ballet instructor, Mrs. Wilkinson, without whom Billy might never have had an opportuity to change his story. Her dry wit and natural ability to find the humor in a moment without having to sell it artificially creates an instant bond with the audience. David Atkinson gives a sobering performance as Billy's father, a man whose pride is as infuriating as it is heartbreaking while Stephen Weston (as Billy's brother Tony) embodies the fierce intensity of an uncompromising idealist.
You must be willing to take a risk in order to serve your dream. That's ultimately what Billy learns on his journey. From the loving presence of his dead Mum (Kim Huber) to the unconditional support of his best friend Michael (Jake Kitchin in a free-spirited comical performance) to the initially unsympathetic men who represent his inevitable future, all of them contribute to the humanity of his story.
Working class England comes to life in a worn color palette that captures the look of shadows and hard times against which the cheerful colors of the artistic world are particularly noticeable (scenic design by Stephen Gifford, lighting design by Steven Young and costumes by Ann Closs-Farley).
BILLY ELLIOT is a musical that will make your heart sing about a boy who would inspire us all. In that light, it isn't so surprising that La Mirada Theatre's production would also come with a story about overcoming the odds. It's another emotionally satisfying, artistically rich night at the theatre by a company who gives its all in every moment. Nothing is better than that.
January 16 - February 8, 2015
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
14900 La Mirada Blvd, La Mirada, CA 90638
Tickets: (562) 944-9801, (714) 994-6310
Mitchell Tobin as Billy Elliot
Vicki Lewis (Mrs. Wilkinson) and the Ballet Girls
David Atkinson (Dad) and Mitchell Tobin
Jake Kitchin (Michael) and Mitchell Tobin
Mitchell Tobin, Kim Huber (Mum) and Vicki Lewis
The Company of Billy Elliot The Musical