Billy Elliot has something for every audience member: great dancing, a powerful story, lots of humor, a beautiful score, and some of the most talented young actors and dancers you will ever see on the stage. The 2005 musical, with music by Elton John and lyrics and book by Lee Hall, tells the story of a young boy in North Eastern England discovering his love of dance to much disapproval while a coalmine strike tears apart his village. The show opened on Broadway in 2008 and went on to win 10 Tony Awards, and has been playing to sold-out houses on the road for years.
Director and Choreographer Geoffrey Goldberg, and Musical Director ans keyboardist Christopher Ertelt and his 8 other musicians bring this mega-musical to life, an impressive feat with so many moving parts. Scenic Designer Mathew Miller created impressive flexibility between locations. On the opposite side of corrugated metal and beams, there were hidden bathrooms, kitchens, and rec rooms as well as a home for projections.
These multiple locations were helped with clever lighting design by Troy Martin O’Shia, with good separation onstage while other scenic changes were happening. And his bright lighting for the showstoppers, including “Swan Lake,” “Born to Boogie,” and the toe-tapping finale, among others, added to the electricity felt all through the theater.
Unfortunately, at my performance, there were mic problems which made it hard to understand the thick English dialects. I am confident that these problems were resolved for the next performance. And there were also some blocking issues during “He Could Go and Be a Star,” where several faces of the actors on the stage were lost. But on the whole, the staging was fun and creative in taking the audience to the numerous locations of the story.
Katie Yamaguchi’s costume design accurately reflected the British different classes reflected in the story. The miners’ uniforms were full of denim, flannel, while Mrs. Wilkinson’s wardrobe was filled with bright colors, and, of course, the ballet dancers, including Billy were recognizable tutus of every color of the rainbow.
Geoffrey Goldberg’s choreography was energetic, fun, and exciting, especially in “Shine,” “Born to Boogie,” “Expressing Yourself,” and the ‘Finale,” and, of course in Billy’s solos. And the combination and juxtaposition of the ballet routine and mine strike in “Solidarity” was stunning.
While the young characters are double cast, the three young lead actors I saw gave impressive performances. Brandon Ranalli (from Media, PA) was stunning in the title role (he alternates with Gunar Daniels, who is from West Chester, PA). Ranalli has played the role of Billy before and his performance was impressively graceful and heartfelt. His athleticism and incredible dancing skills stole the night with his tour de force performances of “Angry Dance” and “Electricity.”
Nathan Esser also won the hearts of the audience as Billy’s best friend, Michael. The tap number “Expressing Yourself” shared between Billy and Michael was so much fun, and was another showstopper.
The family dynamic between the Elliot family was realistic and familiar to anyone in the audience going through a struggle. Billy’s Dad, played by Zach Wobensmith, had an aching eloquence as a recent widower. Throw in his bullheaded son (Tony Garrison Carpenter) and forgetful Grandma played by Susan Wefel, and it felt like you were home for the holidays. Wefel’s number, “Grandma’s Song”, where we learn how much she enjoyed going dancing with her husband, was wonderfully executed, as we learned about her life’s experiences in the song.
Mrs. Wilkinson, played by Anne Connors, exhibited the perfect archetype of a chain-smoking dance teacher with a heart of gold. Her song “The Letter (Mum’s Letter)” was an emotional tear-jerker, while “Shine” and “Born to Boogie” were loads of fun. Connors and Ranalli had great chemistry together, and as Mrs. Wilkinson, Connors showed her love for Billy and it was so apparent and beautiful to watch.
The rest of the talented ensemble included: Steven Ciapanna, Kelly Briggs, Rusty Flounders, Topher Layton, JP Dunphy, Elisa Mathews, Kim Maxson, Rachel Beiswenger, Kaitlin Davis, Jake Glassman, Patrick Ludt, Mark Schen fisch, Carl Nthaniel Smith, and Kristi Smith. The ballet girls were played by Larissa Culbertson, Bridget Henry, Jolie Jaffe, Brooke McCarthy, Kennedy Ndiaye, Kristiana Ranielli, and Violet Wiley.
If you want to see why Billy Elliot won so many Tony and Olivier Awards and why it continues to sell out all over the world, then buy tickets to see the production now playing at The Media Theatre. It’s electrifying!
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.