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Review Roundup: BILLY ELLIOT at the Stratford Festival; What Did The Critics Think?

Review Roundup: BILLY ELLIOT at the Stratford Festival; What Did The Critics Think?Donna Feore's gritty new take on Billy Elliot the Musical, the Tony Award-winning blockbuster musical from Lee Hall and Elton John, is now on stage at the Stratford Fesitval. The production officially opens on Tuesday, May 28, at the Festival Theatre.

Get a first look at the production in the video below!

Billy Elliot is the most contemporary musical ever presented on the Festival's thrust stage. At its helm is Canada's top director-choreographer Donna Feore, celebrating a remarkable 25 seasons at Stratford this year. In what has become her signature style, Feore has spectacularly reimagined Billy Elliot especially for Stratford with brand new staging and choreography, as she's done before with enormous success in a string of back-to-back hits, including last season's record-breaking The Rocky Horror Show, as well as The Music Man, Guys and Dolls, A Chorus Line, The Sound of Music, Crazy for You and Fiddler on the Roof.

Dreams don't come easy in the hardscrabble mining town, riven by a bitter national strike, where 11-year-old Billy lives with his bereaved family. But Billy's discovery of his talent for dance awakens in him a passion that will transform his life and win the hearts of his whole community.

Playing the title role is Nolen Dubuc, an 11-year-old powerhouse performer with a special connection to this musical. Dubuc first saw Billy Elliot the Musical at four years old and left inspired to become a performer. Now, with a long list of awards and theatrical credits under his belt, he has made his way from B.C. to Stratford to achieve his dream of playing Billy.

He is joined by fellow powerhouse performers Dan Chameroy as Billy's Dad and Blythe Wilson as Mrs. Wilkinson, with Marion Adler as Grandma Elliot and Steve Ross as George.

The creative team includes Music Director Franklin Brasz, Set Designer Michael Gianfrancesco, Costume Designer Dana Osborne, Lighting Designer Michael Walton, Projection Designer Jamie Nesbitt, Sound Designer Peter McBoyle and Fight Director Anita Nittoly.

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Let's see what the critics have to say!

Lauren Gienow, BroadwayWorld: There are some glorious numbers in this production, but I'm not sure I've ever seen anything quite as stunning as the dream ballet performed by Dubuc and Colton Curtis, as Older Billy. Feore's choreography and the dancers' talent elevate this number to new heights (literally). I loved one moment where Older Billy stands on a chair and balances using young Billy's shoulders for support. It is symbolic of the fact that no matter what Billy accomplishes, it will always be built upon who he was and where he came from. Considering this scene is all in Billy's mind, it is clear that this is something he deeply understands as well.

Steve Rice, Stratford Beacon Herald: Besides Dubuc, no other actor shines as bright as Blythe Wilson, who is inspiring as Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy's dance coach. With a comically tough exterior caused by a failed career and marriage, she gives Billy the strong and supportive mother figure he's missing. Early in their relationship, she informs Billy that "dancing is as much about you discovering things about yourself as it is discovering about dancing," and that journey of discovery provides the real heartbeat of the musical.

J. Kelly Nestruck, The Globe and Mail: The adult actors can sometimes go a little too big (Scott Beaudin, as Billy's brother, is the prime offender), but one known for his bigly performances at Stratford, notably, does not: Chameroy, who so extremely hammed it up as Dr Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show last season that he should receive honorary membership in the Ontario Pork Congress, delivers his best dramatic performance in ages as Billy's grieving father. It's a much deeper part than I knew - and Chameroy subtly shows us each of Jackie's small shifts along the road to finally supporting his son's self-expression.

Karen Fricker, The Star: Another musical theatre star, Chameroy has to cool his heels for most of the first act before he seizes some great acting and singing opportunities in the second. There's a missed moment at the end of a wonderful pas de deux between Billy and his older self (Colton Curtis) where we might see Jackie recognize his son's talent and decide to embrace the boy's aspirations, another point where the relationship between fantasy and hard reality in Feore's production is muddily handled. But after, Chameroy movingly portrays the cracking open of this grieving man (his late wife is played in imagined vignettes by Vanessa Sears).

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