Billy Elliot the Musical has newly arrived in Melbourne as a must-see musical with an immensely talented cast, impressive sets, and heart-warming storyline.
The musical has two interweaving stories, that of young Billy, who takes an unlikely interest in ballet instead of boxing, and that of the 1984/85 British coal miners' strike against pit closures. This emotional tale is conveyed by a cast of skilful performers, delivering their lines and even their songs in an impeccable Geordie accent.
The title role of Billy was played on opening night by River Mardesic, making his professional debut at just eleven years old. Four boys share the lead role, with River Mardesic's young colleagues Omar Abiad, Wade Nielsen, and Jamie Rogers alternating on different nights. These young stars share the stage with veterans of Australian theatre. Lisa Sontag appears as the formidable dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson. Sontag's commanding presence contrasts with Justin Smith's portrayal of Billy's Dad, a character that is gruff, disapproving, and at times stumbling in his parenting. A highlight was Vivien Davies' performance as Grandma. In Grandma's Song, she shows herself to be no shrinking violet. While Grandma is hunched at the kitchen table for most of her stage time when the opportunity arises Davies demonstrates her beautiful voice and lithe dancing. The bevvy of ballet girls is another highlight, with their coordinated shrieks of excitement perfectly tuned to pierce your eardrums.
With music by Elton John, the songs traverse an emotional journey along with Billy and the miners. While the majority of the musical is quite fun and upbeat, there are tear-jerking moments, such as The Letter in which Billy's dead mother speaks to him through the letter she has left for him.
A variety of dance styles is employed throughout the show. Of course, there is ballet, but the joy of movement is conveyed through the use of many other kinds of dance such as tap and jazz. The scene in which Billy is seen to dance with his older self - played by ballet dancer Aaron Smyth - has Billy flying high above the stage (made possible by aerial). The Angry Dance, the finale to the first act, is another high energy performance in which Billy expresses his frustration through vigorous and violent movement.
Billy Elliot (River Mardesic) and his older, future self (Aaron Smyth) perform an impressive dance duet. Image: James D. Morgan/Getty Images
While it is difficult to take one's eyes off the cast members, the kitsch and detail of the sets deserve a mention. No detail was overlooked in the stunning sets which create locations such as Billy's home, the community hall, and a mining work site. The double-story rolling contraption representing the Elliot household is especially put to use in the Angry Dance, in which Billy retreats to his upstairs bedroom to release his feelings.
This is a must-see musical whether you are a fan of the original movie or not. There is nothing not to love.
Billy Elliot the Musical will be performed at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne until the 19th of April. Tickets can be purchased via Ticketmaster from $65 per person.