Some of you lovely lot may be pleased to hear that there’s to be quite a few reviews of musical theatre productions coming up on my blog – hurrah!
Although I really enjoy updating my blog, I love the doing the musical theatre reviews best of all (if you can call them ‘reviews’ in the first place as opposed to being a collection of my light-hearted and random thoughts).
The first of which is for Billy Elliot, currently playing at The Victoria Palace in London, and recently showered with an astounding 15 Tony nominations.
When the show first opened, I was working in the call centre for the online box office for this show and I cannot explain in quantifiable measure to you all just how phenomenally popular this opening was. Phone lines were jammed, people were clamoring to get any ticket that they could, even if it meant taking single seats. It’s very rare to see demand such as this on a West End theatre show in my experience. It really was verging almost on hysteria!
That was all a distant four years ago (12th May 2005), and perhaps surprisingly, the show is still going extraordinarily strongly to-date, with capacity audiences most nights it would seem! I know of very few shows that have managed to sustain near-capacity audiences as consistently as the producers behind Billy Elliot seem to be claiming; so hurrah for them and their success!
At the time, I’d steered clear of the movie, as back when the film was released, ‘Brit flicks’ weren’t really my thing having seen one too many poor-quality ones, and (perhaps ironically!) the subject wasn’t really something that interested me as a 15 year old Northern lad who wanted to be involved in musical theatre and nothing else. In fact, I only purchased a copy of the movie last summer on the back of hearing Elton John’s amazing work on the scoring of the soundtrack (which I’d been listening to for about a year prior).
Needless to say, I absolutely loved the movie, and from that point it clicked – I simply HAD to go and see Billy Elliot – The Musical. Luckily, some tickets came up over the weekend, so I was very eager to snap them up and Mister Greg was only too happy to be hauled along with me.
First off, let me lay my cards down on the table; I thought that the show was great.
It should come as no surprise to hear me say that the child actors were the ones who made the production in my opinion (I guess that the show is geared this way). It did, however, leave me hankering for some more dramatically ‘chunky’ adult roles, though this is more scripting than performance and perhaps doing that would detract from the musical for most people…
I thought that the acting quality was top-notch and all of the cast were very strong in their roles.
I felt that the sound quality let the performance down a little last night, especially when compared to the soundtrack. Some numbers, especially those with Mrs Wilkinson singing in them, were rather quiet and at times I couldn’t quite make out her vocal.
On the subject of the Mrs Wilkinson character, I would have preferred a much stronger and ‘harsher’ portrayal of the character to be honest. The other characters allusions to her social placing were also a little confusing in my opinion.
I also disliked the character of ‘Grandma’. This was mainly due to the end number of the production when, as an audience member, I felt it was hideously embarrassing (and humiliating!) for the actress to be squeezed into a tutu and tights and brought onto the stage. At one point, she even started lifting her tutu up and showing her knickers. Call me prudish (and you’ll be the first to do so!), but it just didn’t seem respectful towards the actress to have her doing that. Maybe she was perfectly fine with it, and I’m being a namby-pamby, however it was still (in my opinion) cringe-worthy non-the-less.
Strangely, I notice that they have also substituted the word ‘midget’ from Shine (and instead replaced it with ‘pixie.’.. which really doesn’t fit in with a musical that uses the f-word every couple of lines; and a character who would, in theory, use it). It seems strange for a show to be trying to be politically correct when the rest of it simply isn’t! If Hairspray can still get away with ‘plastic little spastic’ then I’m sure that Billy Elliot can get away with ‘midget’.
Politically, the show seemed to be all over the place too, and I really disliked that. By all means, bring political context into it, but some scenes (such as the political satire at the start of Act II), really jarred with the production and actually put me off it. The mixed signage used through the production was also, at the time, somewhat confusing in getting across the political leanings of the miners.
I would presume that the concept was that these people had gone through so much that they no longer believed in politics and whilst they absolutely hated Thatcher and the Conservatives (who bear the brunt due to being in power), that didn’t necessarily mean that they supported Labour either.
There’s no way that one could write a review of the show and not mention the choreography. I thought that it was absolutely amazing! Having seen ‘Electricity’ several times on TV promo spots, I was really concerned that the dancing was going to be spasmodic, irrelevant and hideous. Therefore, it was with great relief that the stage production benefited from coherent and beautiful choreography that at times even left me a little teary!
I really liked the set design for the show; I thought that it was innovative and worked very well in the space provided. A huge stage, and good use of the wings made for a very versatile performance space.
As I say though, special mention has to go to the kids, as they really were the stars of the show (Billy, Michael, the girls and, of course, the little cute kid that they kept bringing on, bless him!).
The one benefit of this whole Billy Elliot franchise that I can see is that there clearly were/are lots of little budding Billy’s out there in the UK. If this show is their opportunity to shine through, start doing things that perhaps their friends aren’t doing, and to engage in the world of musical theatre, then who am I to try and shoot it down.
This is a musical that I’d definitely go and see again, however it has not made it into my top ten I’m afraid… the soundtrack is absolutely great and I will continue to listen to it time and time again (and actually might make it into my top ten!); however the music just didn’t seem to translate as well (or with as much energy) on stage. The dancing, however, was marvellous, and it is definitely worth going just for the choreography alone!
If I had to pick my highlight of the show, it is ‘Angry Dance’ which on stage proved to be absolutely electric and far better than I’d imagined that it would be.
I told myself that I wasn’t going to allow myself to cry… unfortunately it seems that I am rather disobedient! I *may* have permitted myself a sniffle or two through the production (especially around ‘The Letter’), but I’m not admitting to anything… being big and butch as I am! 😛
All in all, the production didn’t quite live up to my (perhaps unrealistic!) expectations, but was still marvellous never-the-less.