Powerful! That is probably the best word with which to begin this review. Last night’s opening night audience at Drury Lane Oakbrook’s “Billy Elliot” saw a production that was far superior to the original that opened in Chicago prior to Broadway. This film converted to Broadway musical with a book and lyrics by Lee Hall and music by Elton John, tells the story of a young man who finds that ballet is his true love. This “love” and “desire” becomes the focal point for a community that is down on its luck and at odds with the world surrounding them.
“Billy Elliot” is a story about dreams that come true, or at least, the possibility of them doing so. It is also a story of faith in others and supporting those who have visions and dreams that differ in every way from yours. The story takes place in a coal mining town, during a strike, in the English countryside. The miners are on strike, so money is tough. Billy’s dad (Ron E. Rains shows a whole new side to his range in this one) and brother, Tony (deftly handled by Liam Quealy) are miners going through the trials of the strike. Billy (this role is handled by two young men who alternate performances- the opening night Billy was played by Nicholas Dantes, an extraordinary young performer with solid ability, a wonderful voice and great stage presence) The alternate is Kyle Halford, who I am positive, knowing how Drury lane works is just as wonderful to watch.
This production is smoothly directed by Rachel Rockwell, who also handles the choreography. If you have never seen one of her productions, where have you been? Her magic has graced most of the stages in the Chicago area and brings a newness to every show she takes on. Her creativity is amazing! Her ability to cast a show with just the right people is another pearl on her string. Maureen Gallagher is a divine Grandma, who adds just the right comic touches to this woman, and who knew she could sing as well as act? Susie McMonagle is wonderful as Mrs. Wilkinson, the dance teacher who sees the promise of young Billy who ends up in her dance class by accident, or was it fate?
Other featured players are Michael Harp as Michael, Billy’s cross dressing friend. Incidently, Rockwell finds a way to get all the miners to cross dress themselves in this production allowing everyone in this huge, and highly energetic cast to “express themselves”. Terry Hamilton, who we see on many of our stages, often in very dramatic roles shows another side of himself as well as he takes on George, Billy’s boxing teacher. Brianna Borger handles the role of Mum, Billy’s departed mother. Her final scene with Billy brought a tear to my eye.
While the music in this play is not music that is memorable, the songs do help the telling of the story. The dance numbers are amazing and truly will give you chills. In particular Rhett Guter as “older Billy” in an amazing dance sequence that has the audience “flying high” as Billy soars. As said earlier, this production is solid from start to finish and exceeded my expectations.
The cleverly designed set (Kevin Depinet), great lighting effects (Lee Fiskness), sound (Garth Helm) costumes (Maggie Hofmann) props (Nick Heggestad) and even the dialect coach (Christine Adair) brought the other ingredients to Ms Rockwell’s recipe for bringing a new look to a production that needed her touch. Her magic is evident from start to finish and while the running time is around two hours and forty five minutes, it will feel like much shorter.
This amazing cast, is proof of the importance of the ensemble and each and every member. The youngsters in this production are amazing. The music direction by Roberta Duchak and the Drury lane Orchestra directed by Colin Welford, magnificent. There is a collection during the intermission break as part of the story with the kids milling through the audience. Please give to this particular charity- The Bernie Yvon memorial Scholarship Fund- see www.bernieyvon.com
“Billy Elliot” will continue at Drury Lane Oakbrook through June 7th with performances as follows:
Thursdays 1:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 5 and 8:30 p.m.
Sundays 2 and 6 p.m.
Tickets range from $45 with special discounts for seniors and students. By the way, due to some rough language, it is suggested that smaller children not be brought to this one. To purchase tickets call the box office at 630-530-0111, Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000 or online at www.drurylane.com
Dinner and lunch packages are available. The theater is located at 100 Drury lane in Oakbrook Terrace, just north of the Oakbrook Shopping Center in Oakbrook with plenty of free parking.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Billy Elliot”