Review by Danny Gaisin
For over a decade, I’ve had a love/like relationship with director Donna Feore. The lady’s background is classical dance and occasionally she allows her dedication to the art get the best of her. It happened with her work on ‘Oklahoma’, (OAR July ’07) and it’s the only flaw in Stratford’s amazing Billy Elliot, the Musical. Feore utilizes every inch of the Festival’s thrust stage with chorus numbers that are outstanding and definitively bear her imprimatur.
The play has two plots, the first deals with a pre-teen male who decides that he’d like to learn ballet; the other deals with the tragic U.K.’s miners’ strike. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
It ran for over a year with injuries and even deaths yet the ‘Iron Lady’ didn’t budge, thus winning the battle. The eponymous title character’s father and brother are both deeply (no pun intended) involved with the strike and Feore has managed to bring their frustrations to the surface. Having a son/sibling wanting to dance instead of boxing is a humiliation to be emphatically contradicted.
If P.M. Margaret Thatcher is the Devil, then Blythe Wilson as the dance instructor ‘Mrs. Wilkinson’ is Elliot’s angel. Tough, unbending, determined and scatological, she’s a worthy opponent for the Prime Minister, in shaping a young boy’s heart & soul. It’s she who gives me the headline quote and if it weren’t for the quadruple threat abilities of 11-year old Nolen Dubuc, she’d own the play. He is “V F S” as an actor, tap dancer, singer and ballerino. He probably wouldn’t remember, but I met him & Zoe Brown last summer as they were waiting to audition for this season. I was impressed then, and even more so now. The maturity, focus, work ethic & dedication I observed then, is what makes him and his co-cast members so professional. His dreamlike pas-de-deux with Colton Curtis in Act II is awesome, as is the dramatic “The Letter” number with Wilson and Vanessa Sears as Billy’s deceased mother’s spirit.
There are some super strong support efforts whose contributions are more than just noteworthy. Dan Chameroy & Scott Beaudin as the father and brother respectively, both bring superior thespian talent to their role portrayals. Emerson Gamble is Billy’s BFF Michael and his mature handling of the character’s personal struggles is a credit to both him and Feore’s direction.
There are some memorable stage numbers such as the ‘Express yourself’ manikins (SPELLING) and the big ‘Once we were Kings’. There are also some tension-reducing lines such as when one of the miners mimicking ballet states that ‘No wonder they call it the ‘nutcracker’! There is also an evocative moment early in the play when as boxing is segueing into Ballet class, one of the episodes in Hamlisch’s ‘A Chorus Line’ comes to mind. Remember the bit about ‘I could do That!
The story is by Lee Hall and Elton John is the composer…certainly a dynamic duo. Add in Donna Feore and Nolen Dubuc and it is no wonder that BILLY ELLIOT the Musical is playing to sold-out audiences with the run extended. Asterisk this one as a certainty for our ARTS REVIEW’s TOP TEN 2019 As a trivia aside, Stratford is a small and close knit community. Today we had the opportunity of meeting the nephew of Oliver Gaffney who was the engineering ‘Yin’ to Tom Patterson’s ‘Yang’. Learned some of the struggles and challenges the two faced in trying to bring the Patterson dream to fruition. Sorry, sworn to secrecy!