A review of “Billy Elliot the Musical,” a much-better-than-the-film production on stage at Village Theatre in Issaquah through July 3.
The shine hasn’t faded from “Billy Elliot the Musical,” a Broadway juggernaut that won 10 Tonys in 2009 and is now on stage in an immensely likable production from Village Theatre.
Propelled by an Elton John score that underlines his cheeky pop savvy with an air of stoic solemnity, the musical is a substantial improvement on its source material, the 2000 film directed by Stephen Daldry, who also helmed the original Broadway production.
Daldry’s film aped the social realism of English director Ken Loach (“Kes”), with a heaping scoop of sentimentality served alongside its portrait of a working-class community in crisis. “Billy Elliot the Musical” avoids watered-down realism by rushing headlong into fantasy; this is a world where police in riot gear can transform suddenly into a chorus line and your older self is ready and waiting to perform a dream ballet duet.
‘Billy Elliot the Musical’
by Elton John and Lee Hall. Through July 3, Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah (425-392-2202 or villagetheatre.org), and July 8-31, Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett (425-257-8600).
Four young actors (Nikita Baryshnikov, Vincent Bennett, Bito Gottesman and Philipp Mergener) share the role of Billy, the British 11-year-old who discovers a passion for dance. His coal miner father (Eric Polani Jensen) and brother (Matthew Kacergis) are striking in the midst of their industry’s collapse, and Billy’s newfound interest in ballet feels like yet another affront to their threatened masculinity.
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The transformation of Billy’s dad from closed-minded curmudgeon to empathetic advocate can feel rushed in Lee Hall’s efficient book, but Jensen layers in an omnipresent undercurrent of unspoken disappointment that guides the widower’s every action.
That same disappointment of deferred expectations informs Mari Nelson’s performance as Mrs. Wilkinson, the surly ballet instructor who takes Billy under her wing and recommends he apply to the Royal Ballet School in London. Her own unfulfilled artistic dreams don’t have to be specified by the script; Nelson’s hair-trigger sarcasm explains plenty.
Of course, “Billy Elliot” is more jubilant than melancholy, and director Steve Tomkins’ staging takes care to continually reinforce that fact.
There are surprises all over this rural British county, from a guy (Greg McCormick Allen) sporting a mullet and a Motley Crue T-shirt who’s actually a ballet enthusiast to Billy’s gay friend Michael (a role shared by Quinn Liebling and Bryan Kinder), who confidently comes out to Billy despite the community’s heavy emphasis on traditional roles. Michael convinces Billy to dress up in women’s clothing, and the resultant bouncy, tap-dancing “Expressing Yourself” is just pure theatrical joy.
Katy Tabb’s diverse choreography ranges from drunken carousing (“Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher”) to elegant, balletic grace (“Swan Lake”). That fog-shrouded, aerial dream ballet, in which Billy dances with his future self (Scott Brateng), is a beautiful moment of yearning and a stirring affirmation of the show’s ability to shut out the pesky intrusions of reality.