- Photo by Doug Blemker
- Noah Parets (Billy), Janet Dickinson (Mrs. Wilkinson) and Samantha Blaire Cutler (Debbie) in “Billy Elliot the Musical.”
Wholly relevant, but only mildly entertaining, Billy Elliot features an outstanding performance by the eponymous protagonist (Noah Parets), but otherwise doesn't inspire one to hum any of its tunes upon departure.
After the show, instead of reprising a favorite song, I was musing on the melancholy of the final scene, though that in no way should be taken as criticism. There's an underlying despair to Billy Elliot, because the backdrop to the story — a coal mine strike, scab workers and the demise of the village's economic base — festers like a boil. Kudos to the show's artistic team for not creating a hollow celebration as a finale; the curtain call provides plenty of frivolity.
Overall the story is a mishmash of themes, relying too heavily on the oft-used dead mom plot point to generate instant sympathy. Class warfare — coal miners vs. cops — is the main theme in the first act, and if you can't keep track of who is whom, you can always see what they're wearing. The cops are in costume; the miners are in costume; the dancers are in (mostly) tutus. Only Billy and his young friend Michael experiment with costume, signaling a desire to be different and dance to their own drum beat.
The second act gets more into the idea of parental sacrifice. There are no more (at least on-stage) scuffles betwixt miners and cops; the on-stage scuffles are between Billy and his dad and his brother, Tony. And the town goes from being against Billy dancing ballet — for fear he's a "poof" — to being universally supportive.
Billy Elliot challenges no existing assumptions, but does display a gorgeous set, beautiful lighting and strong performances from the cast. It also connects to a number of real issues in our very own community at this time.
This is what I meant by wholly relevant. NUVO's cover story this week is about hotel workers trying to unionize. Recently in my neighborhood we've been protesting the Army Corps of Engineers' flood protection plan. And the Harding Street coal-fired power plant in downtown Indianapolis is planning an upgrade to the tune of 100 million dollars. Coal, union, community activism; subjects explored by Billy Elliot in satisfying measure.