Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal, Special to the Village News
“Billy Elliott, the Musical” chronicles the British National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) strike in Northern England in 1984. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher set out to dismantle the National Coal Board, which monitored the state-owned coal industry, with the intent of crushing the miner’s union. The NUM retaliated and called a strike putting over 300,000 laborers out of work. While hardly the stuff of electrifying musicals, this unexceptionally ordinary tale develops into a runaway success.
Based on the Universal Pictures/Studiocanal Film released in 2000, the book and lyrics for this amazing show was written by Lee Hall with music by none other than Elton John.
The story expresses how children are impacted by adult assertions as fathers and brothers are held to account, mostly through petty peer and societal pressures, in order to vindicate their manliness. It demonstrates how any non-traditional behavior, construed as outside the norm, can be labeled and belittled.
Billy Elliott is a scruffy kid heavily influenced by his machismo upbringing. After accidentally stumbling into a ballet class in the same gymnasium where he takes his boxing lessons, Billy questions the idea of dancing instead of punching. And that is when all “bloody hell” breaks lose.
It has been decades since a kid has carried a show. Not since Andrea McArdle played Annie in 1977, and before that it was Elizabeth Taylor in “National Velvet”. Even Roddy McDowall was 15 in “Lassie Come Home”.
Yet 10-year old Charlie Garton wins the day in his premiering role as Billy. Trained in dance and voice plus a God given talent, Charlie has made a giant step toward a long career.
Working along with 36 other actors/dancers/singers, Charlie is one of a dozen kids that ramp up the ante as they encounter the historical events from their point of view.
Billy’s best pal, Michael Caffrey, is played with phenomenal assurance by Mackernan “Mac” Jarman. This fifth grader sparkles with personality.
Outstanding performances were turned in by the ballet ensemble Julia Dawson, Sophia Dimmick, Marina Hall, (quirky-‘n’-dorky) cutie, Jamie McCoy, Kayla Grace Pak, Eileen Parks, Adelina Rocha, Claire Scheper, Kaitlin Yamano, and Catalina Zelles.
Amongst the dance kids that had stand out performances were Simon Jude Pak as the small boy and Aaron Schueler as the posh kid that auditioned with Billy for the Royal Ballet.
Billy’s new ballet instructor, Mrs. Wilkinson (Joy Yandell), is a no-nonsense, headstrong woman with an intense passion for the dance. She pushes and cajoles Billy as he struggles between his heart and his loyalty to family. And then there is her petulant daughter Debbie Wilkerson (Cassidy Smith) who is a snarky, insolent preteen that owns her scenes. Not to be overlooked is the hilarious Mr. Braithwaite (Donny Gersonde), the ballet piano player. Gersonde even does the splits!
Three more starring roles include Doug Tompos as Billy’s dad, Alexandra Gonzales as his grandma and Luke Monday as Tony, his older brother. Each play compelling roles and are well cast.
Among many notable performances, one is played by Morgan Carberry, Billy’s dead mum. Carberry’s role is filled with heart tugging pathos.
Other featured roles are Tom Brault as George, Ed Hollingsworth as the pit supervisor, John B. Williford as Big Davey and Steven Freitas as a scab miner. Not to be overlooked is the important role by Paul Morgavo playing the boring Mr. Wilkerson, plus solid performances by Scott Arnold as a Scottish dancer, Randall Eames as a policeman and Kyle Hawk the posh-kid’s Dad.
While this huge cast often carry dual-roles, here is a list of the other ensemble characters: Brooke Farnum, Jacob Narcy, Amy Perkins, Thomas Reasoner, Jonathan Sangster, Zachary Smart and Debra Wanger.
And just as you are settled into the tale, there is a show stopping, heart melting moment midway. It is an enchanted dream sequence between young Billy and his adult self where he soars in a poetic ballet. Shadow danced to perfection with Zachary Gutheir, soloist with the California Ballet Company, as the adult Billy.
Directed with precision by Neil Dale born in Liverpool, England, Dale has brought his British sensibilities with him. Jared Nelson as choreographer, an associate artistic director of California Ballet in San Diego, has created a masterpiece.
Don Lemaster, resident musical director for SDMT, proves again why he has this job. Also supporting this production is Christina Martin as the lighting director and Kevin Anthenill on sound. Janet Pitcher is back doing a super job with costumes, and Peter Herman did the hair and wigs. New to the staff is Vanessa Dinning as the dialect coach also from the U. K.
“Billy Elliott the Musical” is a first-class experience. Founders of the San Diego Musical Theatre, Erin and Gary Lewis, have produced a remarkable show filled with exceptional talent by partnering with California Ballet company.
Producing a show is not for the faint of heart, and we in San Diego are blessed to have such a dynamic duo willing to bring good theatre to our town. And you will no doubt have a chance to meet them because often they are in the lobby checking guests in at Will Call.
“Billy Elliott the Musical” is currently playing at The Spreckels Theatre at 121 Broadway in downtown through Oct. 8 on Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Friday 8 p.m., Saturday 8 p.m. and Sunday at
2 p.m. Box Office: (858) 560-5740 or www.sdmt.org.