Review: Billy Elliot the Musical

As part of my trip home to see my family in England, I was lucky enough to be able to pop into London to see a couple of shows. First off, the matinee choice:

 

Where and when: Victoria Palace Theatre London, Thursday 13 June 2013, 2:30pm

The Show

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this show as I’ve seen the film which inspired it, but had not heard much about the musical other than about the rigorous training required for the child actors. It very quickly becomes apparent that this is a show which casts dancers who sing. I was overwhelmingly impressed by the choreography throughout, though in particular the “Solidarity” scene will be the one I remember. Police officers and striking miners dance their war of attrition while young ballet girls weave in and out of them. There are some longer dance scenes for Billy which, while impressive, did not do much to forward the story.

The music has been written in a way that retains a traditional musical theatre sound while drawing on the sound of 1980s music. There are a few solo song numbers which convey beautifully the tense and fractured relationships between members of Billy’s family, as well as Billy’s personal grief at the death of his mother prior to the start of the story.

I will freely admit to finding the opening number of the second half “Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher” more than a bit uncomfortable, after her death earlier this year, but I think that was an issue of timing more than anything. I did read on Wikipedia that: “On 8 April 2013, it was announced that Margaret Thatcher had died at the age of 87 of a stroke and there was uncertainty whether the song ‘Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher’ would be included in the performance that day due to the lyrics including: “We all celebrate today ’cause it’s one day closer to your death”. Director Stephen Daldry said that after “much discussion”, the audience were given the choice to decide whether the song should be performed and, with only 3 audience members voting against it, the performance went ahead as normal.”

The Cast

The adults in this cast were very good (frankly, it’s the West End, they should be). The particular highlight for me was Ann Emery in as Grandma, who has the wonderful solo “Grandma’s Song”. Anna Jane-Casey also does brilliantly as the insecure but forceful Sandra Wilkinson. Both Deka Walmsly as Dad and Kevin Wathan as Tony also carried off their parts brilliantly.

It’s obvious that Billy (I believe it was Tade Biesinger on for our performance) is cast almost entirely on dance ability rather than singing or acting, and the acting was the weakest skill by miles. Zach Aitkinson as Michael was much better, but the role of Michael doesn’t require so much dancing, and needs greater acting skills than Billy. The wee, nameless, boy who opens the show did a marvellous job, especially given he couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7.

Overall, I would say that the energy did feel a little flat compared to other shows I’ve seen. When you’re playing eight shows a week, it’s not surprising that the medweek matinee doesn’t quite sparkle as much as it should do.

Notable Songs

  • Grandma’s Song – Grandma (Hard)
  • Born to Boogie – Sandra Wilkinson (Technically an ensemble, but could be a med-hard solo)
  • Electricity – Billy (Easy-Med)

Overall

I really enjoyed this show, and I expect it to have a good long time to run yet. I do wonder how well it plays internationally, but it seems that overseas transfers have all done well, so the book clearly does a good job of explaining the British politics!

I wasn’t outright blown away by this show, but I feel we made a really good choice and I enjoyed the story thoroughly.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (4/5)

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