Saturday, November 26, 2011

Musical Review: "Billy Elliot The Musical"

You had to be there. The Academy of Music in Philadelphia, it happened to be Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, but inside the Academy is another world, no worries, a high comfort level for me sitting in that wonderful historic place………… opened in 1857, it's America's oldest opera house still in use for opera performances, the original architects concentrated their time (and money) on interior decoration, leaving the fa├žade "plain and simple like a Markethouse" (see history link below), the 19th century gilded interior is flamboyantly excessive, one feels a transient time warp………….I have to say that I would buy a ticket just to sit there, all by myself, grandly indulging my imagination……….when I was a youngster, my grandfather several times took my brother and me to Philadelphia Orchestra concerts at the Academy, I was a bit too young to appreciate the orchestra's classical repertoire, the music seemed strange and "grown up" to me, I usually fell asleep during the second half of the concert, but my memory of being in that luscious, luxurious place is vivid and warm.

Anyway, Billy Elliot The Musical. First, I loved it. Masterful staging, the dancing was intriguing and entrancing, the loving bond between Billy and his departed mother was palpable, heart-felt pathos, the cast was exuberant, the singing lusty………I can't avoid the fact that the heavy dose of miner strike polemics was dry and formulaic—except for the Margaret Thatcher-bashing scenes, all of them were a hoot and I won't spoil the fun for you by recalling them in detail. Billy's dance scenes were heroic, that young man didn't disappoint.

Finally, I'm bound to say I like the movie version of "Billy Elliot" better. For my taste, the film is a more personal and more warmly developed story of Billy's inner turmoil as a working class lad who prefers ballet to boxing, who reacts with confusion and tortured faith to the grownups who don't hesitate to influence him, who learns to articulate the electricity he feels and manifests when he dances. The final triumphant scene of the movie is duplicated, not quite sublimely, during the second act of the stage production…..but the film's ending soars, it is so profoundly, almost abstractly powerful that I can understand why the folks who produced the musical might have been assured that they needed to throw in some Elton John music to give it equal horsepower. Good try. Check out the movie. I'm going to watch it again.

Billy Elliot The Musical:

Billy Elliot, movie version:

The Academy of Music in Philadelphia:

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