Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Billy Elliot The Musical

Book and Lyrics by Lee Hallthe musical chicago

Music by Elton John

Directed by Stephen Daldry

Choreography by Peter Darling

Music Direction by Colin Welford

Produced by Broadway In Chicago

At the Oriental Theatre Chicago

Billy Elliot The Musical has its moments!

. . .It’s a feeling that you can’t control
I suppose it’s like forgetting, losing who you are
And at the same time something makes you whole
. . .And then I feel a change
Like a fire deep inside
Something bursting me wide open
Impossible to hide
And suddenly I’m flying
Flying like a bird
Like Eeectricity, electricity
Sparks inside of me/
And I’m free
I’m free.

— lyrics to “Electricity, ” Billy’s show stopping explanation of how dancing makes him feel.

The winner of 10 Tony’s including Best Musical, Billy Elliot arrives for an extended sit-down run at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre. There has been much hype about this show and, as is the case so often, it doesn’t quite live up to my expectations.  I must say, that Billy Elliot has so much going for it that it is “critic-proof.”

billy elliot the musical chicago

With a bouncy pop/rock score with hints of English folk music, Elton John’s music is  serviceable with several soaring anthems with a couple of rhythmic dance numbers.  “Solidarity,” “Born to Boogie,” and “Electricity” are among my favorite songs.

billy elliot the musical chicago

Billy Elliot contains the finest assortment of  child triple-threat players I’ve ever seen. Anchored by Cesar Corrales as Billy (with Tommy Batchelor, Giuseppe Bausilio and J. P. Viernes alternating), Billy Elliot is  the joyous celebration of a boy’s struggle to live his dream as a ballet dancer.  Billy’s passion for dancing is in direct opposition to his working class coal-miner family. The musical reunites the film writer (Lee Hall) now the book & lyricist with director Stephen Daldry, his colleague on the film.

billy elliot the musical chicago

This musical follows the film with added numbers and several strange staging decisions by director Daldry. Having some of the coal strikers and police dance and mimic confrontations in the same scenes with the children’s ballet classes and having the fat piano accompanist, Mr. Braithwaite (the terrific Chicagoan Blake Hammond) dance with Billy and his teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (the amazing Emily Skinner) serves as a distraction from one of Billy’s moments of personal discovery.  Why?

billy elliot the musical chicago

Act one also contains Billy’s grandmother’s (Cynthia Darlow) memory of her husband in “We’d Go Dancing.” The outstanding choreography by Peter Darling is one of the strongest elements in this show.  I’d add the brilliant lighting (by Rick Fisher) on Ian MacNeil’s movable set to the stellar production values.

billy elliot the musical chicago

Billy Elliot is a child’s dream struggle to breakout from the bleak Northern English coal mining culture to the creative world of self-expression through dance.

The finest moments in this show occur when Billy is dancing.  When he and his cross-dressing mate, Michael (Keenan Johnson) amuse them selves with lady’s clothing, the result is a show-stopping burlesque/vaudeville dance extravaganza, “Express Yourself” that featured large dancing dresses and men’s pants!  Billy’s anger is deftly expressed in the colorful “Angry Dance.”

Billy dreams about being in the ballet that results in a literally soaring  ballet with his older self as a danseur (Samuel Pergande) to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.  That was a magic moment to savor.

Billy’s explanation of why he loves to dance to the audition officials explodes into the passionate dance tune “Electricity.”  Young Cesar Corrales gave a tour de force performance as Billy. His thick Northern English accent, his honest acting and his vocal chops equal his polished, tight dancing that went from pop to ballet pirouettes to tap.

billy elliot the musical chicago

Despite the use of numerous  obscenities by everyone including the children (why?), Billy Elliot is somewhat family-friendly. The show grew on me as it eventually had enough heart and passion to become winning theatrical event. The movement from the coal miner’s plight to Billy’s struggle bogged down the show but Billy’s journey created enough truth expressed through song and dance to captivate me.

I believe that Billy Elliot The Musical will have a long and winning run here.  The young dancers are electrifying.


Tom Williams

At the Oriental Theatre,  24 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL, call 800-775-2000,, tickets 30 -$100, running time is 2 hours, 50 minutes with intermission, open run

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