"Gateway's Billy Elliot soars..."
Billy was born to dance. "Mum" might have foreseen his destiny, but she died when he was a little boy. Dad, a coal miner who thinks dance is for girls and gays, is distracted by a strike.
The success of The Gateway's Long Island premiere of "Billy Elliot," a best-musical Tony and Olivier award winner on opposite shores of the Atlantic rests on the slender shoulders and nimble feet of a boy who can pass for 11. Mitchell Tobin, a gangly teen with the baby face of a tween, alternates in the demanding role with 12-year-old Brandon Ranalli, a season 6 "America's Got Talent" semifinalist. Tobin, who played Billy in London and on national tour, performed with disarming grace on opening night.
A crisp three hours as directed by Steven Minning, "Billy" takes place in a northeast England mining region at the height of Margaret Thatcher's power. It's 1984 and the prime minister is determined to break the mineworkers union. A way of life is at stake. Billy's brother, Tony, and their father are on strike, along with virtually every working man in the gritty town of Durham (appropriately dingy sets and lighting by Campbell Baird and Doug Harry). Dad pays for boxing lessons to keep Billy out of after-school mischief. When his coach asks him to give the keys to the gym to a dance instructor who shares the space, Billy gets his first glimpse of ballet (rhymes with valley as pronounced in Durham). Billy soon turns in his boxing gloves for ballet slippers.
Janet Dickinson as the wisecracking dance teacher convinces us of her good intentions in encouraging Billy to audition for the Royal Ballet School. Craig Bennett is both gruff and good-hearted as Billy's stressed dad, while Brandyn Day as Tony reflects the hothead faction of the anti-Thatcher miners.
Accompanied by Colin Welford's orchestra to Elton John's music, Patti Perkins as Grandma reveals that dance is in Billy's blood, singing of her woeful marriage in which the only bright moments occurred on the dance floor with her late husband. Ethan Eisenberg as Billy's cross-dressing pal (costumes by Dustin Cross) almost steals the show with comic relief from violent confrontations between strikers and coppers (percussive choreography by Alison Levenberg).
But it's Billy's dreamlike "balley" sequence, enhanced by Peter Pan-like maneuvers, that truly steals the show.
Gateway's "Billy Elliot" soars -- literally and figuratively.
NY Theatre Guide
". . Billy Elliot is a poignant reminder to follow ones’ heart and dreams no matter the circumstances."
The touching and inspirational musical Billy Elliot, is now playing at the Gateway Playhouse. With book and lyrics by Lee Hall and music by Elton John, the play is based on the 2000 movie of the same name. The show first debuted on the London stage in 2005, and since then, it has been performed around the world, winning four Laurence Olivier Awards, ten Tony Awards, ten Drama Desk Awards and seven Helpmann Awards. It is a tale of loss, hope and perseverance that is relatable for all generations.
The story’s plot is two-fold. On one hand of course, we have young Billy Elliot who accidentally finds himself in a dance class one day and discovers he actually likes it. On the other is the historical setting of the 1984 British Miner’s Strike. The Elliot family are miners living in the little town of Easington, England. Mr. Elliot (Craig Bennett) is a widower with two sons, Tony (Brandyn Day) and Billy (Mitchell Tobin). As the miners go on strike, and as tensions in the town and family rise, Billy escapes more and more into the world of dance. With his talent obvious and his skill growing, Billy gets the chance to audition for the Royal Ballet School. Will his father let him? Will they even be able to afford it? Billy Elliot is the story of one boy, and the town that comes together to give him a chance.
Directed by Steven Minning, Gateway’s performance is very well done. The fantastic original choreography by Peter Darling, is recreated for this production by Alison Levenberg. This solid cast brings to life the struggles, fears and hopes of their characters. Mitchell Tobin as Billy was a pleasure to watch throughout the show. His energy never flagged, and he did an excellent job of portraying the progression of dancing talent from the beginning to the end. The role of Billy is alternately played by Brandon Ranalli. Craig Bennett gives a convincing portrayal of a stressed and care-worn parent. As he allows his care and tenderness towards Billy to come through, it adds a depth to his character that is much appreciated. Patti Perkins’ role of the senile Grandma provides much needed comic relief to the general seriousness of the plotline — as does the always enjoyable Ethan Eisenberg as Billy’s friend Michael. Janet Dickinson was entertaining as the dance teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson. Strong voices and talented dancing skills were everywhere in this large cast — not only for the adults, but for the many children involved in this production as well.
Filling out the performance is a well-designed set by Campbell Baird and accurate costuming by Dustin Cross. The orchestra, under direction from Colin Welford, was excellent. A favorite moment for sure is a beautiful dance sequence with Billy and his older self, portrayed by Richard Gatta. This is made even more stunning thanks to aerials from Flying By Foy; you don’t want to miss this scene. An uplifting story of hope in dark times, Billy Elliot is a poignant reminder to follow ones’ heart and dreams no matter the circumstances.
The New York Times
Aileen JacobsonClick Here to Read NY Times Review
The Long Island Advance
TIt’s a true creative skill when a musical presents a panorama of gritty truths, humor and pathos just the way life serendipitously unfolds. The Gateway’s “Billy Elliot,” based on the 1984 coal miners’ strike in England — when Great Britain’s prime minister Margaret Thatcher broke the powerful National Union of Mineworkers by sending for a veritable army of police — does that. The movie made its mark in 2000; in 2005 the musical erupted in London to great acclaim.
The plight of the striking union workers will resonate especially with those whose parents and grandparents were blue collar workers (the strike is explained via film projection at the onset) and this is a powerful story that includes a young teen, Billy Elliot, whose father is a major union leader in the fictionalized Durham Miners Association, who discovers his destiny isn’t in the mines, but in ballet.
Mitchell Tobin as Billy is a standout in his role (the role alternates with Brandon Ranalli) as the struggling teen aching for a different life that will clash with the traditional path expected of him. (Tobin played Billy in the London production and Broadway national tour.) His sensitivity, confusion and eventual acceptance of his wholeness when he dances are played out when he trades boxing gloves in the village community center that serves as a gathering place for all things and stumbles into Mrs. Wilkinson’s ballet class.
Janet Dickinson as Mrs. Wilkinson is terrific as the savvy, unsentimental, but clear-eyed teacher who knows talent when she sees it and can trade insults with Billy’s family aim for aim, while encouraging her new charge to audition, eventually with the Royal Ballet Company in London.
The choreography in this production is brilliant. The scene with the ballet girls interspersed with clashing strikers and police in the rousing “Solidarity” number is a work of art. When Billy asks his grandmother (a scrappy Patti Perkins) about his grandfather, ‘a bastard,’ as she calls him, her younger self emerges when, for an hour, she and her husband could take flight and communicate on the dance floor. The “Grandma’s Song” scene, with young men in the dreamy sequence characterizing the charm of their intertwining in dance and then the indifference afterwards, is beautiful. But then, so is Billy, dancing with his future self, played by Richard Gatta, who resembles the late, famous dance master George Balanchine in their graceful Swan Lake duo with filmy fog and Billy’s ascent (thanks to Flying by Foy). It is gorgeous. You can thank choreographer Alison Levenberg, originally from England, who is the resident choreographer/dance supervisor for the national “Billy Elliot” tour. The cast and ensemble are a joy to watch (many are from the Stage Door School of Dance).
Ethan Eisenberg as Michael, Billy’s gay friend, is a wildly funny treat, especially in the “Expressing Yourself” number; he wears a dress, costumes Billy up, and in come the ballet girls in this just-enjoy-who-you-are number.
While rooting for Billy, you also really feel for the strikers and their plight. Billy’s father (Craig Bennett, who played Broadway in Sting’s “The Last Ship”) is struggling with all his might to keep the family together without a wife to help ease the struggle. (Billy’s dead mom, played by Jessica Norland Baker, steps in and out to poignantly encourage her son.) While he’s hard on Billy, you truly feel for him. The strikers, with their passions and hardships, can be harsh, but also amazingly supportive, and kind, in their plight. And Billy’s brother Tony (Brandyn Day) expresses all the rage of a young man fighting for an ideal and a decent wage and you forgive him for his jealousy; Billy’s path will mean payment with a nonexistent income.
Elton John wrote the music and the orchestra is led by Colin Welford, whose Broadway chops are prodigious; he also orchestrates for the New York and Boston Pops orchestras.
As for the finale, it reinforces that, at times, tough dreams when pursued do come true.