Amy Boyle

A coal miner's son finds himself the lone boy in dance class in "Billy Elliot the Musical."

Theater review: 'Billy Elliot' an uplifting musical

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1D
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 11, 2013 - 8:00 am

"Billy Elliot the Musical" has two of the most important elements going for it: creative storytelling and engaging subject matter.

The show, based on the 2000 hit film with music by Elton John, earned 10 Tony Awards in 2009 and has won more than 75 international theater awards.

At Tuesday night's opening of the national touring production run at the Community Center Theater, the reality of the musical drama, based on the British coal miners strike of the mid-1980s, came face-to-face with current events.

The musical, set in County Durham, opens with a newscaster setting the time and place by describing then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's use of riot police against striking miners in an effort to break the union (which she did).

The recently deceased Thatcher is reviled throughout the production, and the second act curtain-raiser "Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher," devotes itself to mocking her and looking forward to her death. Given the timing, it was an awkward moment in an otherwise gloriously uplifting production.

Billy (played by Mitchell Tobin on opening night, one of four young actors who rotate in the demanding role) is a young, nearly forgotten kid in a household obsessed with the strike. He's also crippled by his mother's recent death.

Billy's dad (the skilled Rich Hebert) and his brother Tony (Cullen R. Titmas) are miners and vocal supporters of the strike.

Billy hardly registers their struggle as he looks after his absent-minded Grandma (Patti Perkins) and skulks off to his dreaded boxing lessons.

But Mrs. Wilkinson's (a wry Janet Dickinson) ballet class, which takes over the hall after the boxing, speaks to Billy, and soon he's surreptitiously skipping boxing to study dance.

The show excels in elevating its dramatic narrative through song, movement and spectacle. The opening "The Stars Look Down" and the sensational "Solidarity" blend all elements of the company with the story lines.

Grandma's funny and poignant "We'd Go Dancing" masterfully tells the story of her bleak, mostly unhappy life in the duration of the song.

One of the production's stars is Ian MacNeil's flexible and evocative set, which glides back and forth on the stage, never letting the story's momentum sag. The outstanding pit orchestra was electric with Elton John's musical score.

Justin Martin directs the touring production and Kathryn Dunn provides the choreography.

Carrying it all on opening night, though, was the dynamic Tobin as the determined Billy, who dances his heart out as a way to escape the fate of the doomed coal miners whose way of life is threatened by imminent extinction.


Four stars

What: California Musical Theatre presentation

Where: Community Center Theater, 13th & L streets, Sacramento.

When 8 p.m. today through Saturday, 2 p.m. matinees today, Saturday and Sunday.

Tickets: $24-$99 (very limited)

Information: (916) 557-1999 or (916) 808-5181; or

Time: Two hours and 40 minutes including one intermission

Call The Bee's Call The Bee's Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.

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