Standing in Solidarity: DHT’s ‘Billy Elliot’
Cheyne Nomura is reviews editor for Hitting The Stage. A teacher by day at Damien Memorial, you might also sometimes find him on the Diamond Head Theatre stage… or in NYC catching some Broadway shows.
Part of me feels compunction for proclaiming myself as a lover of musical theatre, when I, in fact, haven’t seen many shows that fall within the musical theatre canon of classics. Such is the case with DHT’s recently-opened Billy Elliot. Originally a film directed by multiple recipient of the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for direction Stephen Daldry, who thus proceeded to direct the Broadway version after a pitch by Elton John, DHT Artistic Director John Rampage both directs and co-choreographs a beautiful production that left me in awe.
The musical follows the story of an English community in the midst of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s reign, wherein the laborers of the underground mines find themselves on strike. A theme of solidarity instantly becomes apparent, as indicated by a musical number set by somber lighting and intriguing staging and choreography. This theme becomes prevalent within the musical, but later serves as an instance of hypocrisy, after we are introduced to the titular Billy Elliot (Aaron Ostoff in his DHT debut). A young boy expected to follow in the footsteps of his bitter, widowed father (LeGrand Lawrence) and stubborn brother Tony (in an impressive sophomore debut by Chance Ingalls), Billy soon stumbles into a second-rate dance studio run by Mrs. Wilkinson (a subliminal Ahnya Chang). Floored by his natural talent, Mrs. Wilkinson takes it upon herself to fully realize Billy’s potential and secretly endow him with private lessons for an audition for the Royal Ballet School. Upon Dad finding this out, much to his dismay, he forbids Billy from continuing his lessons. Determined to pursue his newfound passion, however, Billy is propelled by the voice and spirit of his mother and proves his father otherwise in a subtle, but stunning rendition of Swan Lake, in which both his current and older self are both seen dancing the show. Dad then realizes how hindering his son from realizing any sort of dream he himself failed to accomplish, especially after the passing of his wife, shouldn’t impel him to deter his son from a fulfilled life.
While I am a fan of nearly every production that DHT mounts, this particular show is hands-down the best I’ve ever seen. As a rather stoic, un-impinged viewer of most performances, I cried not once, but three times. Such honesty and passion permeates the show, and one can’t help but be affected by the acting, dancing, and goal of the young dancer. Ostroff gives an impressive debut upon the DHT stage. A trained dancer for seven years, Rampage noted that he had seen Ostroff in a performance once and thus requested his mother contact him to discuss his being in the show, because without a Billy, the production would have failed to been mounted. It is Chang, however, who gives a splendid performance as the dance teacher wanting nothing but success for her students. She plays the role with such subtlety, but remains honest throughout. As an educator myself, I was deeply affected and touched by this particular character. I expect to see her claim of a Po’okela Award at next year’s ceremony.
Billy Elliot is a musical that will appeal to an array of audiences. I entered with no knowledge of the show, and left the theatre completely blown away. As a dancer in training, it has inspired me to do even better, and strive to shatter the expectations of being someone who’s expected to be play basketball and football rather than sing and dance. Inspiring, thought-provoking, and visually enthralling, Billy Elliot is a show you will be penitent about missing. The show just finished its second weekend, and will run for two more.