Republished by kind permission from Neals Paper.
As usual with 2007 musical version of the 2000 movie, the personal scenes that concentrate on Billy, whether he’s dancing or not, are the strength of this production. Labor turmoil in England’s nationalized mines might create context and backdrop, but they impinge on what matters most in BILLY ELLIOT, which is not, for all it wants to be, a political tract but the sweet story of a boy with significant talent in a region and town that marginally understands such specialty.Numbers like “Solidarity” always seem like a simplistic interruption, but in Geoffrey Goldberg’s production, they don’t integrate at all. Rather than interrupt, they disrupt. Luckily, most of Lee Hall’s script dwells on Billy and the adolescent conflicts he faces as an almost-orphan.
The actors in Goldberg’s staging make Billy’s journey from working class ragamuffin to potential ballet star quite moving. Anne Connors gives the performance of her career as Sandra Wilkinson, the village dance teacher who discovers a student that gratifies and motivates her beyond the chance to rake in another 50 pence for lessons. Brandon Ranalli is a touching Billy who demonstrates the dancing flair Mrs. Wilkinson sees, at times thrillingly. Zach Wobensmith is a master of quiet dignity and quieter compassion as Billy’s father, a man torn between the only life he’s known and a son who challenges its orderly regularity. Garrison Carpenter shows grit and strength as Billy’s brother. Nathan Esser is a wonder of nature as Billy’s best mate, Michael. His ease in the role boosts the production’s entertainment value. Susan Wefel has beautiful moments as Billy’s grandmother. Elisa Matthews radiates love as Billy’s late mother. Kelly Briggs, proving he is made for character roles, shines in a number of parts. Carl Nathaniel Smith provides good cameos as a scab who endures shunning while feeling he remains part of the community. These performances are singled out because it is the intimate, individual work that fuels this production and provides its core. Except for the “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher” number that opens act two, ensemble work has little theatrical impact. The actual opening scenes threaten to scuttle Goldberg’s production before it has a chance to recover with Wefel’s breakfast shenanigans and Connors’s lifesaving entrance. They humanize the chaos. Read an expanded review >>>
Read more from Neals Paper >>> [Media Theatre, 104 East State Street, Media, PA] November 18, 2015-January 3, 2016; mediatheatre.org.