Set during the grim political turmoil that was the miner’s strike of 1984 Britain comes an uplifting and heartwarming musical, Billy Elliot The Musical is the opening show at Auckland Theatre Company’s new home the ASB Waterfront Theatre.
Based on the film of the same name, Billy is an eleven-year-old boy who just happens to like ballet more than boxing. This is not quite what his uber-masculine father and brother will be expecting of him so Billy keeps his private dance lessons to himself until he is discovered leaping and generally ballet-ing all over the shop . A resulting ban from dancing leaves Billy attempting to go back to normal life but the electricity of dance is still in him, but is he good enough to go all the way to the London School of Ballet? Once his passion is clear his family and whole community rally round to support him in achieving his dreams.
This is a thoroughly well-produced show with excellent choreography accompanying the wonderful music by Elton John. The dramatic opening immediately sets the political tone and working class spirit of our protagonists. The cheeky script does not shy away from how everyday people speak so don’t expect any airs and graces here. The ASB Waterfront Theatre seats around 600, has a great stage space but still manages to feel extremely intimate, this was partly due to the heartwarming performances of the cast. Even with a few opening night hiccups I have nothing but good things to say about this brilliant opening show.
There are so many stars in this show; particularly enjoyable was Rima Te Wiata as Billy’s grandma. Her solo ‘Grandmas song’ was pure joy and was the point in the show that really got me on board and sure that I was going to love every minute. Miner and boxing teacher, George, played by Andrew Grainger was a great energy to watch and he definitely shone when he got the spotlight to himself to open the second half – bringing with him lots of laughs and lots of heart. Billy’s dad, played by Stephen Lovatt, brought the working men’s solidarity as well as pain and heartache to the stage and played an almost broken man who just wanted the best for his son. A great performance that was only faulted in a few accent slip-ups, but not to worry as he wasn’t the only one to face some stuggles with that geordie accent. Dance teacher and all round good egg, Mrs Wilkinson, is the person that see’s Billy’s potential. Jodie Dorday brings sensitivity without sentimentality to this dedicated and kind character.
There isn’t enough praise and kudos that I can give to the younger members of the cast as they are just all fantastic. The energy, enthusiasm and cheeky smiles will give you the feel-good factor for long after the show ends. The performance by Stanely Reedy on opening night as Billy’s camp best friend Michael is adorable, hilarious and downright cuteness overload. This is especially evident in his duet with Billy ‘Expressing Yourself’ which will no doubt be a highlight for many that see this show. Obviously, there was one big star on the night and that was Jaxson Cook, who played Billy (one of three actors who will play the role during it’s run). This is an epic show for anyone playing the part, and he truly put his all into his performance. Cook is an inspiring young performer who seemed to just glide his way through the two-plus hours of singing, dancing, acting and heartstring pulling wonderfully. I was exhausted on his behalf but he didn’t seem phased and looked like he could have done it all again during the curtain call.
Billy Elliot isn’t only a great excuse to experience one of Auckland’s great new theatrical spaces but it’s also a chance to lift your spirits and leap into a world where dreams can come true. Billy Elliot The Musical opens the ASB Waterfront with heartfelt energy and spirited performances.
Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar
Photo credit: Michael Smith