The story of “Billy Elliot” may warm your heart, it may bring a tear to your eye and yes, it may make you want to get up and dance. But one thing this show is guaranteed to do? Make you completely in awe of the incredible talent on stage — most of which are too young to drive.
When I was 15, I’m pretty sure I was wasting away watching “The Animaniacs,” hating the fact that I had to take piano lessons and doing everything I could to avoid going to dance practice. So when I sat watching 15-year-old Michael Dameski’s lead performance in “Billy Elliot” Friday night at the Orpheum Theatre, I couldn’t help but be completely blown away by the young chap’s incredible dedication.
For Dameski, telling the story of “Billy Elliot,” in a way, mirrors his own life. Having auditioned for the role of Billy, Dameski was a bit of a long shot. The one thing he didn’t have under his belt was almost the most crucial — dance training. Dameski, who calls Sydney, Australia home, said in August that he first auditioned at the age of 9 and though he didn’t have the dance skills down, the casting directors just found him too likeable not to give him another go.
Dameski was sent off for extensive, intense dance training and once completed, was given the chance to audition again. He nailed it and won the role.
Like Dameski, the character of Billy Elliot isn’t a born dancer. He picks up the after-school activity a bit on accident and after it drives electricity through his veins, falls madly in love with the so-called “sissy” sport –a love he’s forced to keep secret from his coal mining father and brother who would definitely disapprove of such a “puff” activity.
The story is set in 1984, in the midst of the British National Union of Mineworkers’ strike against the coal industry and the threats of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to crush the unions. Bouncing between the harsh riots of the strike and the delicate grace of Billy’s ballet lessons (pronounced “balley” in this show), the story keeps the audience on its toes (no pun intended) through its powerful dance sequences, intricate choreography and delightful soundtrack. A soundtrack that has Sir Elton John to thank for its beautiful music.
I was pleasantly surprised by the force of the show –whether garnering your full attention with a single spotlight dance or grasping at your emotions with a heart-wrenching song. And there’s nothing more adorable than tiny tots with English accents — even if they’re using that accent to call someone a “bahstard.” Throw in white, puffy tu-tus and forget about it. These kids will win you over every time.
That’s not to say that the adult stars weren’t absolutely incredible as well. Rich Hebert played the role of Billy’s father to perfection — capturing both the hard exterior and stern father figure and the big, giant teddy bear softy that he often masks. Tony Award winner Faith Prince is incredible as Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy’s secret dance instructor. Prince’s no-crap-from-anyone attitude pairs well with her ability to warm your heart one moment and bring a gut-busting laugh the next.
From beginning to end, “Billy Elliot” is a wonderful ride. The dancing is extraordinary and beyond beautiful. (Yes, even when extremely tight spandex threatens to distract your eyes from the movement of the steps.) And the story leaves you with a new sense of what a community can do, a fresh understanding of love of family over love of self and a true inspiration of what’s possible when you stay true to yourself.
“Billy Elliot” runs until Jan. 9, at the Orpheum Theatre, as part of the 2010-11 Broadway Season. Single tickets are on sale now.
Sara Boyd is a web producer and columnist at WCCO.COM.