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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
BILLY ELLIOT
at the Imperial Theatre

DANCING FOR HIS LIFE
By SANDY MACDONALD

  Cast from Billy Elliot

There's no burning need to hoof it to Billy Elliot. This well-received London import has legs: it's bound to stick around for a while. However, the trio of boys currently sharing the title role (in a scheduling system clouded in secrecy) will inevitably age out, so for a sure thing, go soon.

Our cast consisted of Kiril Kulish (who projects an eerily adult poise, laced with a child's innate sweetness) in the title role, and Frank Dolce (egregiously hammy, but cute) as his pal Michael, who reveals an unabashed penchant for cross-dressing - a piquant enough peculiarity in itself. There's no need to pad the moment with a hokey dance of overstuffed schmattes. (At least a little glamour, please!)

There's an over-muchness to the production as a whole, which with intermission runs to a full three hours. Do we really need a starter newsreel to grasp the historical context, especially when a working-class panto later conveys the conflict much more colorfully? And does Billy actually have to "fly" (clunky harness and all), when - in Kulish's case, at least - we can already see how dancing exhilarates him? The only sight more thrilling is that of Stephen Hanna as the older Billy, interacting in an imaginary pas de deux. Here he is, muscled out, pure poetry in space.

With its kitchen-sink sinkholes, the plot development can plod, especially when composer Elton John has the stalwart miners singing solidarity anthems. We know where the story is headed, and the real excitement doesn't take place on the home front or on the picket line (despite director Stephen Daldry's dramatic staging of the latter), but when Billy starts to get the knack of a pirouette. We're seeing beauty aborning.


Haydn Gwynne is superb as the tatty, burnt-out dance teacher who first spots his potential and educes it. Costumer Nicky Gillibrand has her got up in provincial finery (fur-lined coat, Lurex leotard, leg-warmers that just look ineffably sad), and Gwynne leaves you wondering what dreams Mrs. Wilkinson has come to choke on. As her dragged-along daughter, Erin Whyland employs an eye-roll that reads to the last row.

If you go in already loving ballet, you may end up wishing there'd been more (Kulish's final run of fouettes rond de jambe en tournant is astounding). It's encouraging, though, to think of audiences - young and old - who might go in antagonistically disposed and come away aficionados.

 


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