There is a moment in Billy Elliot when 11-year-old Billy dances with the man he could become. There are a lot of ifs to get through before he can become that man. If his father lets him audition for the Royal Ballet. If he can somehow scrape together the money to get to London for the audition. If he can pass the audition and somehow make it through years of intensive training. There are so many insurmountable ifs. But in that moment, set to the booming strains of Swan Lake, none of the ifs matter. There’s just a boy with a dream, and he’s flying.
That’s the gist of the musical. A boy with a dream. Simple, as most good musicals are. If you’re unfamiliar with the 2000 film that inspired the stage production, as I was, Billy Elliot tells the story of an eleven-year-old boy in the 1980s. His northern English village has been afflicted by Margaret Thatcher’s anti-mining policies, and the populace is on strike. I’ll confess I didn’t really understand this plot, since I know almost nothing about mining, striking or Margaret Thatcher, but it really just serves as a backdrop for Billy, the boy who stumbles out of a boxing class and into a ballet class. Or “balley,” as the cast calls it. From there, it’s all about a dream and impossible odds and (spoiler!) ultimate success.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Billy Elliot’s strongest scenes come when there’s dancing. The first time Billy learns, on wobbling legs, to turn a pirouette. The raucous babble of his little-girl dance classmates. The furious dance when Billy’s dream seems crushed, set against a blood-red background and clashing miners and policemen. And of course, that gorgeous dance with Billy and himself, complete with one of the most lovely and touching aerial sequences I’ve ever seen. You may not leave the show humming the music, but the dance sequences are indelible.
The stage design is clever and innovative, with characters interacting directly with set pieces as they shuffle on and off stage. The lighting is superb. You may not pay much attention to lighting, but it’s one of the most critical aspects of any show. Here, shadows are used to tremendous effect, especially when Billy seems to dance with his own shadowy counterpart in a scene that reminded me of Peter Pan. Late in the show, miner’s headlamps form a dramatic backdrop for a song of solidarity and, in many ways, resignation.
The cast is talented and so, so young. Our Billy, Noah Parets, is just 13. 13! Mind boggling. Keep in mind the role of Billy rotates, so you may have a completely different experience.
There’s also an inflatable Margaret Thatcher. Maggie puppets, too. Make of that what you will.
Make sure you aren’t fooled by a false curtain call at the end; a few people left the theater and missed what’s one of the best actual curtain calls I’ve seen, complete with some sharp tap dancing by the entire cast.
The show is mostly family friendly, and there were certainly plenty of kids in the audience which is wonderful to see, but be warned: the language is shockingly salty. Most of it will probably whiz right by kids since it’s dropped so casually into speech, but be forewarned.
Billy Elliot is a beautiful musical to look at, acted with passion and aplomb and staged with attention to detail and beauty. It’s in Indy through November 18 at the Old National Centre, which I insist on calling the Murat like a crotchety old person. Tickets start at $39, including ticket handling charges. Click here to buy tickets.
My tickets were provided courtesy of Broadway Across America Indianapolis. I was not obligated to write about the show and received no additional compensation. All opinions are my own.