Review: Young Stars Perform with Aplomb in Village Theatre's BILLY ELLIOT

By: May. 25, 2016
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Greg McCormick Allen, Mari Nelson, Philipp Mergener, and cast
Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

There truly is nothing to not like about "Billy Elliot" performing at Village Theatre.

"Billy Elliot" is a story of a coal minor's son who finds his calling in ballet dancing. Set during the yearlong coal miner's strike of 1984, Billy finds himself not only up against the socio-political turmoil of his hometown, but the bigoted stigmas against a man ballet dancing by members of his own community.

The titular role of Billy Elliot is a tough one to pull off. The actor must sustain a believable British accent for a full-length production (which, for an non-British actor, is a triumph in itself), act, sing, and most importantly, masterfully perform a number of different styles of dance; including ballet, tap, interpretive, and modern.

To top it all off, Billy Elliot is eleven years old.

In other productions of "Billy Elliot" that I have seen, directors have fallen into an easy trap of casting devastatingly adorable actors to play the younger characters. When you cast very young, very precious actors to play the parts, mistakes can be easily forgiven. Directed by Steve Tomkins, Village Theatre's "Billy Elliot" showcased performances by young actors that were supremely talented, and not just talented "for their age".

Case in point: Vincent Bennett (who alternates in the role of Billy with Philipp Mergener, Nikita Baryshnikov, and Bito Gottesman) first solo musical number of the production was loudly disrupted by his malfunctioning microphone, but the young actor confidently performed the entire number completely unfazed. Bennett's performance was exquisite: his tap and ballet choreography had the precision to illustrate Billy's prodigy and the emotional charge to carry the story.

Philipp Mergener in
"Billy Elliot"
Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

There were so many delightful performances in this production-the young cast of ballet class students truly epitomized how there are no small characters. They collectively applied unique characteristics to their roles that were all so impressively subtle. All but Debbie Wilkinson (played by Jasmine Harrick) had major speaking roles, but Eliana Coe, Priya Niehaus, Lacey Krueger, Charlie Ganz, Eden Vold, and Cordelia Janow all gave impressive depth to their characters through their facial expressions and body language.

I would be remiss to not mention the more seasoned actors: Eric Polani Jensen's portrayal of Billy's macho, bullish dad was so convincingly inconvincible, making the redemptive moments so satisfying. Mari Nelson as Billy's sarcastic ballet instructor Mrs. Wilkinson worked wonders showing how meaningful Billy's success was to her without saying it blatantly. As Billy's young friend Michael, Quinn Liebling's tap number "Expressing Yourself" sporting a flouncy tulle skirt and gold tap shoes was, for me, the most delightful segment of the evening.

The basic premise of "Billy Elliot" sounds like it would be treacle: a young boy from humble means with a misunderstood dream his means to escape; his supportive mother passed away, and his brutish, small-minded father disapproves of his art. But the meat of the story was told through dance, which elevated it into something heartfelt and engaging.

"Billy Elliot" at the Village Theatre was an absolute joy, and give it 5/5 stars.

"Billy Elliot" performs at the Village Theatre in Issaquah through July 3, 2016 and then moves to their Everett location running July 8 through July 31, 2016. For tickets and information, contact the Issaquah box office at 425-392-2202 or the Everett box office at 425-257-8600, or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.



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