“Billy Elliot, the Musical” opens at the Marcus Center
Billy's dancing is great, but we wait a little too long for it.
There is joy in the story of Billy Elliot, a young boy who breaks out of a dreary destiny in the coal fields of northern England through his liberating ability as a dancer. That spirit drove the success of Billy Elliot, a movie released in 2000.
Billy Elliot the Musical, which opened Tuesday in the Marcus Center, takes a long time to find its joy. The nearly three-hour production, based on the movie and featuring music by Elton John, seems at times like a British-accented sitcom, as vaudevillian slapstick and R-rated one-liners intrude into the story line.
The music, supported by mostly keyboard and synthesizer in the pit, is a pastiche of Broadway razzle-dazzle, music hall ballads and rock anthems. The choreography also runs the gamut, from Fosse-style jazz to classical ballet.
Billy Elliot engages only when Billy does what he does best, dance. Kylend Hetherington, Billy on Tuesday night, is one of four young actors sharing the role on this tour. He is thin, bordering on gawky, but exudes the confidence to carry the demands of the part. During his second act dream dance sequence with his older self (ably danced by Maximilien A. Baud), Hetherington’s dancing takes on an ethereal quality, aided by plenty of stage fog and a brief flying segment.
Cameron Clifford played Billy’s young friend, Michael. This little guy nearly stole the opening night with his Wonder Years innocence and big voice, as he dressed up in his sister’s outfits in “Expressing Yourself.”
As Billy’s father, Rich Hebert poignantly portrays a change of heart about crossing the picket line, so that he can help Billy pursue his dream of dancing in “He Could Go and He Could Shine.” Janet Dickinson is the world-weary Mrs. Wilkinson, who first recognizes Billy’s talent as his dance teacher and mentor.
Billy’s big number is “Electricity.” Hetherington’s voice gained force as the song explains what he feels when he dances: “Electricity sparks within me and I’m free, I’m free.”
Billy Elliot the Musical runs through Sunday in Uihlein Hall of the Marcus Center. Call the Marcus box office, (414) 273-7206, or visit the Marcus website.