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Billy Elliot the Musical

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After the success of the 2000 film Billy Elliot, it wasn't a stretch to imagine making the story into a musical. Lee Hall, who wrote the screenplay, created book and lyrics, and with the help of Elton John's music and Stephen Daldry's direction, turned out a production that is still currently playing in England today. Concerns over how the British working-class dialogue might play out on a world tour evaporated when productions were widely successful as it turned global. The appeal of dreams realized is universal.

In the current McCoy Rigby Entertainment show at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, a down-to-the-wire show replacement for Billy occurred when Noah Parets, the original cast member, broke his arm during rehearsals. With only a week  before the opening, fourteen-year-old Mitchell Tobin stepped in as the little boy who chooses dancing over boxing. Since the success of the show depends, in a large part, on the charisma of the actor playing the title role, it was a knuckle-biter, but Tobin more than exceeds expectations.

The show is gritty and has at its core the unhappy coal miner's strike in northern England in the 80s. Billy's Dad (David Atkinson) is rough and angry, not necessarily ingredients for accepting his son's desire to dance ballet, hence the conflict. As the story begins and Billy almost accidentally discovers his passion, the scene is set for the fulfillment of Billy's hopes and aspirations by show's end.

Director Brian Kite does a masterful job of combining the darker elements of the storyline and the somewhat forgettable musical score with energy enough to convince the audience that improbability can triumph. Dana Solimando's choreography also goes a long way toward making the story appealing.

As Mrs. Wilkerson, the ballet teacher whose gaggle of little girls is less than inspiring, Vicki Lewis delivers humor and a cocky edge as she encourages Billy to pursue his talents. Her feisty exchanges with Atkinson as he tries to prevent Billy from dancing are standout.

Atkinson is also excellent as the bewildered widower who finds parenthood a challenge in the midst of social upheaval in his life.

Also interjecting some much-needed humor is Billy's friend Michael (Jake Kitchin), a cross-dressing pal who shows Billy the joys of female attire. Kitchin is ebullient and shines in his characterization.

Another notable is Marsha Waterbury as Billy's forgetful grandmother. Her renditon of "Grandma's Song," an account of her unhappy marriage and struggles, is moving and a welcome addition to the musical numbers.

The overall ensemble for this production is well-cast, with many noteworthy cameos. Stephen Weston as Billy's brother Tony adds pathos as he rails against the plight of the miners and their probable defeat at the hands of the government. Kim Huber also provides some touching moments as the ghost of Billy's mother.

There are two standout moments in the show for Tobin. One is when he imagines his future as a dancer with Brandon Forrest as adult Billy and the other in a passionate solo filled with anger and frustration. At these moments, the vision of the story is richly articulated.

Casting is at the heart of the success of this production, and McCoy Rigby has gathered a colorful group to spin out the story. Though at times a bit too formulaic, it still provides a worthwhile foray into British musical theater.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.