Thursday, March 1, 2012

"Billy Elliot" Celebrates Joy of dancing

By Skip Sheffield

“Billy Elliot” is the flip side of Meryl Streep’s Oscar-winning performance as “Iron Lady.”
Running through Sunday, March 11 at Broward Center for the Arts, “Billy Elliot” is a musical version of the 2000 film set in the Margaret Thatcher era of 1984, when the British Prime Minister Thatcher decided to close unprofitable coal mines. Mrs. Thatcher was steadfast in her opposition to union demands, and she became the villain as a result.
Coal was the lifeblood of Durham County in the north of England. The union miners voted to go on strike for their livelihood, provoking one of the longest, most violent worker-versus-government conflict in British history.
That is conflict No. 1 of “Billy Elliot.” Conflict No. 2 is that of gender and sexual identity. Billy Elliot, the 11-year-old son of a veteran miner (Rich Hebert) has no interest in the boxing lessons his father can ill afford. What Billy really wants to do is dance; not just ballroom or tap, but real, rarefied dance at the Royal Ballet.
If you’ve never been a kid taking dance classes, you may wonder what is the Big Deal? The Big Deal is chauvinistic, macho notion that real men don’t dance. If you do dance you are a sissy, a queer.
I felt the sting of peer derision when I was taking tap at Ginger’s School of Dance. As much as I loved to dance and be the center of attention in a room full of girls, I let the mocking comments discourage me.
The truth of the matter is that real men do dance, and they dance with grace and beauty. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation.
The role of Billy Elliot is very taxing, especially for a young boy. Therefore there are four boys alternating in the role in this touring production.
A mop-topped, dark-haired lad named J.P. Viernes was Billy for the opening night performance. In a word he was terrific. We see the progress of a boy with natural ability under the tutelage of a tough old gal called Mrs. Wilkinson (Leah Hocking).
Mrs. Wilkinson reminded me of my own Ginger; an ex-Broadway hoofer with a profound love for dance but a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to class discipline.
The choreography of “Billy Elliot’ is a thing of beauty, meshed perfectly with a spectacular set design the combines industrial decay with ethereal beauty.
There is a brawny male chorus of miners and cops who clash noisily while moving with balletic grace. There is a corresponding adult female chorus of downtrodden women who come alive as they dance.
There is also a tiny female chorus of adorable would-be ballerinas of various sizes prancing about in their tutus.
There are several scene-stealing secondary roles: Cameron Clifford and Jacob Zelonky alternating as Billy’s cross-dressing best friend Michael; Cynthia Darlow as Billy’s feisty Grandma and Cullen R. Titmas as his fiery older brother.
Elton John’s musical score is quite impressive and expressively played by a powerful band in the pit. The whole show culminates in a rapturous tap-dancing finale that loudly celebrates the joy of dance.
“Billy Elliot” is a show that entertains and delights while poking fun at a grim era in Britain when it looked like everything might go down the tubes. It didn’t, Mrs. Thatcher notwithstanding, and England emerged stronger, not unlike a football player who gets better practicing ballet moves.
Tickets are $29.95 and up. Call 954-462-0222 or go to

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