o you remember what it felt like to be eleven years old?
Personally, I spent much of my early adolescence trying to be exactly like my peers. So I appreciate the premise of Billy Elliot, the hit musical about an eleven-year-old boy who ignores his family’s disapproval, small town’s small-mindedness and the perpetually intense pressure to conform to pursue his love of dance.
The Tony Award-winning Elton John musical, which opened last night at Overture Center, tells a compelling story of young Billy. But it’s also the story of his northeast England mining town, which from 1984 to 1985 endured a strike as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tried to bust the country’s coal unions. This context is crucial.
Several young performers share the task of playing Billy, and on opening night Ty Forhan did a stellar job in the role. Watching him dance—offering a mix of ballet, tap and popular moves out of the 1970s and ’80s—was a joy.
The show’s most powerful moments came when disparate scenes were juxtaposed, such as when Billy’s first ballet class overlapped with protesters clashing with police, or when the boy parlayed his anger and frustration into a passionate dance while riots erupted in the streets.
A particularly beautiful scene came when Billy, alone in the ballet studio, began dancing. His surroundings literally slipped away and he was transported into a realm where nothing else mattered. An older dancer, the mesmerizing Maximilien Baud, mirrored his movements and then clipped the boy into a harness that let him soar above the stage.
Also poignant were Billy’s interactions with his late mother and the point when the boy’s family and community surprisingly came together to support his goal to pursue dance beyond the city’s limits.
The best comic relief came in the form of Billy’s best friend Michael, played charmingly by Cameron Clifford. This eccentric, self-assured, cross-dressing boy embodied the musical’s message of finding the courage to be true to oneself.
Billy Elliot the Musical runs through July 15 at Overture Center. For more information, visit overturecenter.com.
Photo courtesy of Overture Center.