Tuesday November 21st 2017

“Billy Elliot, the Musical”

Tonight was a very special one. Porchlight Music Theatre, beginning its 23rd season in Chicago , opened its production of “Billy Elliot”, the amazing Elton John and Lee Halls inspirational story of a young boy who trades his boxing gloves for ballet shoes and how this changes the lives of his father, his brother and in fact, the entire town. Making this particular night even more special is the relocation of Porchlight to  The Ruth Page Center For The Arts. To those of you new to the theater scene in Chicago, this is where the Shakespeare Theatre began ( now in its own fantastic building at Navy Pier) and Lookingglass Theatre ( now in the original Water Tower on Michigan Avenue). Those of us involved with the theater scene in Chicago, might begin to ask, if the Porchlight People might expect their own venue very soon.

Part of the move to this venue from the old Stage 773 on Belmont is that the stage area is larger which makes a big production such as “Billy Elliot” easier to follow and certainly one that captures the audience far greater than the Broadway road production or even that which Drury Lane did recently. The intimate venue at Ruth Page (  218 seats, each one with a clear view to the stage) is ideal. We can see the faces of the actors ( by the way, a sterling cast) allowing us to also feel the emotion of a story that is powerful.

The musical is based on the film of 2000 ( is it possible this was 17 years ago?), telling the tale of a small mining town in England during the major strike of 1984/1985. While the play is 2 plus hours in two acts, the story is pretty simple. Billy is a young lad, whose father Jackie ,(a powerful performance by Sean Fortunato, who continues to show Chicago audience just how versatile he is) is a miner sends him off to Boxing class. The purpose, while never made crystal clear, is probably to get him ready for manhood and his opportunity to also be a coal miner. His older brother,  Tony (played to perfection by Adam Fane, a rising talent that also continues to show his value to the local theater scene) is also a miner, but one who feels the strike must take precedence over all else. The rest of their household is Grandma ( the always reliable and incredible Iris Lieberman, who never ages and has more energy that most of the 12 years olds on the stage).

The character of Billy is played by two different young lads. Tonight’s opening featured  Lincoln Seymour, who is making his theater debut. What a production to do so in and what a spectacular performance. When the Broadway touring production came into town, I interviewed one of the three boys who handled this role, and I must tell you, Lincoln did a splendid job. His voice might not be the greatest, but his acting and dancing skills outweighed any negatives this young man brings to the stage. Remember this name, Lincoln Seymour. You will see him again. The other Billy is Jacob Kaiser, also making his debut. Both of these young men are dancers who have been studying for years. Their parents can now see that it paid off.

This spectacular production is directed and choreographed by one of my favorite local talents, Brenda Didier, and anyone who has watched her grow her craft, knows that her heart and soul is in every dance number. Once again, she shows us what she feels and is able to pull this emotion out of each cast member. I for one, love her work and her talent!

This is by far the largest cast Porchlight has ever assembled for a production- every one is solid, from the youngest of kids- I think that may be Gabriel Robert (what a cutie) or perhaps Darby Leetch ( I wanted to take her home).  Every member of the cast was filled with the same heart that Didier put into the production and we could not only see it, we could feel it. Please be advised to bring a small tissue package with you, as this play has places where you WILL need them. I counted three tissues for me.

Shanesie Davis, who plays Mrs. Wilkerson, the woman who discovers the talent of Billy is dynamite as an actress and her character comes across as real and caring. Her piano player, Mr. Braithwaite (Tommy Novak is a strong performer, a larger than life performer who moves with style and grace and is even larger in talent!)  supplies much of the comic relief that is offered in this story. Lieberman as Grandma has her moments as well. Other major players are” Jordan DeBose, Nicole Cready (as Mum, or at least the ghost/spirit of her), the adorable Peyton Owen (as Michael, Billy’s best friend who teaches him that it is okay to be who you are and like what you like),  Princess  Isis Z. Lang as Debbie , daughter of Mrs. Wilkerson (she has some very cute scenes and will be a name that will come up from time to time).

Other cast members in this huge and very energetic and talented cast are: John Guardian, Alejandro Medina,  Jordan DeBose,  Jeff Bouthiette, Michelle McKenzie-Voigt, Paula Hlava, Ayla Gray, Moriah Mitchell, McKenna Rogers, Kendall Sorkin, Bernadette Olivia Schwegel, Emerson Tait,  Darby Leetch, Anna L. Bramlett, Katelyn Montgomery, Jenny McPherson, , Graham Hawley, Bernell Lassai III, Jessica Vann, Jeff Bouthiette, Logan Baffico, Ivan Bruns-Trukhin, Jacob Voigt, Jessica Vann and as the older Billy for the powerful dance number, Ivan Bruns-Trukhin, who is wonderful and together with Seymour made for a wonderful experience.

The set by Christopher Rhoton is cleverly done allowing us to move from space to space. On their new Stage , Porchlight has a better perspective(not being three sides/arena),  for which it is  easier to create . Bill Morey(costumes),  Denise Karczewsli (lights), Robert Hornbostel (sound) and Mealah Heidenreish (props) all did a solid job and the angry dance and fight choreography by Jaq Seifert added to the powerful overall picture painted by Didier with assistance by Craig V. Miller on the choreography. Linda Madonia is the musical director and conductor with her musicians making the music soar, but never drowning out the singers. Great job by Justin Kono, Cesar Romero, Greg Strauss, Cara Hartz, Dan Kristan and  Sarah Younker.

“Billy Elliot, the Muscial” will continue at Porchlight’s new home, The Ruth Page Center for The Arts, located at 1016 N. Dearborn Street in Chicago thru  November 26th with performances as follows:

Thursdays  7:30 p.m. No performance on 11/16

Fridays  8 p.m.

Saturdays  4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Sundays  6 p.m. with added 2 p.m. performances 11/12 and 11 /19

Thanksgiving week: Friday, November 24th at 4 and 8 p.m.

Saturday, 11/25  4 and 8 p.m. and Sunday the 26th at 2 p.m.

Tickets range from $33-$60 and can be purchased by calling 773-777-9884 or online at www.PorchlightMusicTheatre.org

Valet parking is available at the Ruth Page Center and public transportation makes it very simple to get there.

To see what others are saying, and I am thinking very positive, please visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Billy Elliot, the Musical”

 

2 Comments for ““Billy Elliot, the Musical””

  • Amy Horst says:

    While I agree that Tommy Novak is a powerfully gifted performer, I am not sure a description of his body shape is relevant or useful, especially as you use it as negative contrast.


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