By Jason KUROSU
“Spread the word,” said Tom McCoy of McCoy/Rigby Entertainment before a packed Alex Theatre audience. “Musical theater is coming back to the Alex in a big way.”
McCoy/Rigby Entertainment’s production of “Billy Elliot the Musical” took the stage at the Alex Theatre from Feb 20 to Feb 22, the second live theater production since the Alex reopened after major renovations. With an increased backstage area and improvements to sound and lighting, the Alex Theatre is now equipped to host larger productions than ever before, as demonstrated by “Les Miserables” in January and “Billy Elliot” the following month.
After a run at the La Mirada Theatre, the show came to Glendale for a weekend trio of performances.
The story of Billy Elliot began with the hit 2000 film, written by Lee Hall and directed by Stephen Daldry. Five years later, Hall and Daldry helmed the musical, with songs from legendary musician Elton John and the show has continued to accumulate awards both here and abroad.
Set during the UK Miners’ Strike of 1984-85, Billy’s world is one in which the responsibilities of a proper man are inescapable virtues, as his coal miner father and brother are deeply embroiled in strike efforts which come to dominate Billy’s home life. For this reason, Billy’s newfound affinity for dance (nurtured under the tutelage of dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson) becomes an uneasy outlet, but one that provides him too much joy (or “Electricity”) to abandon.
The clash between Billy and the world around him is captured brilliantly from the start, with newsreel footage that places audiences right in the thick of the miners’ strike. Billy is placed front and center, watching from a detached position the circumstances that shaped the strike, before the events of the musical get underway.
While his family struggles to put food on the table, Billy’s love for dance flourishes through Mrs. Wilkinson’s clandestine instruction. Soon, Billy’s burgeoning talent suggests a wealth of potential and a future in dance, something that is hard for his family to swallow.
Mitchell Tobin, 14, does a fantastic job tackling all the requirements of the role. Tobin previously played Billy on two separate tours of the show, but was rushed back into the part just days before the premiere in January, when then-lead Noah Parets broke his arm in rehearsal.
Behind Tobin are a host of great performances. Vicki Lewis’ animated Mrs. Wilkinson strikes a fine balance between uplifting, humorous and serious moments. David Atkinson delivers a powerful performance as Billy’s father, caught between his devotion to his sons and his fellow miners. Stephen Weston, who plays Tony, Billy’s older brother, brings a fantastic intensity to his scenes, as one of the more fervent proponents of the strike efforts. Jake Kitchin nearly steals the show at certain points, as Billy’s best friend, Michael.
The staging of the musical numbers brings the warring aspects of Billy’s life together in brilliant detail. Ballerinas tiptoe between hordes of strike breaking policemen and union members. In one sequence, Billy dances his frustrations out to the beat of batons on riot shields.
“Billy Elliot” delivers not only a great show but a great example of what the Alex Theatre is capable of, as the theater ventures further into the realm of musical theater.
Visit www.alextheatre.org/ for information on future events and performances. The theatre is located at 216 N. Brand Blvd. in Glendale.