“Billy Elliot,” which opened Friday at Theatre Alliance, is a classic tale of individuation and the chaos that self-actualization can cause in a small, hide-bound community.
Billy is growing up in the aftermath of his mother’s death. His company consists of rough men and his dotty grandmother, until he stumbles into ballet lessons, which afford him a glimpse into another world, full of possibility.
County Durham, in North England where he lives with his father and older brother, is embroiled in the 1984-85 miners’ strike.
Contrast and conflict occur when Billy finds his wings as a dancer while the rest of his community is pulled in the opposite direction — down, down, down into coal mines that are no longer viable.
The production at Theatre Alliance benefits from excellent sound design by Michael Saunders-Potts. Fine performances by the leads and an exuberant ensemble fill out the fun.
John C. Wilson and Mary Isom are the choreographers. Wilson also portrays Billy’s older self.
Maggie Gallagher is the music director and plays Billy’s grandmother. She does a bittersweet turn on “Grandma’s Song” (“we were sober.”)
Julian Pecoraro, a student in the UNC School of the Arts Dance Prep Program, plays Billy. He rises to the challenging choreography and positively shines in some of the numbers, especially Billy’s “Angry Dance” and “Electricity.”
Another UNCSA Prep student, Liam Forest, also shone brightly as Billy’s chum, Michael Caffrey. Michael encourages Billy to be himself on “Expressing Yourself” but expresses doubts of his own about ballet dancing, which Michael thinks is just a bit odd.
Heather Moorefield-Lang plays Billy’s tough but tender dance teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson. She starts delighting on “Born To Boogie” and maintains a powerful presence on the stage throughout, standing up to Billy’s father and remaining Billy’s stalwart champion.
As Billy’s dad, Steve Robinson, embodies a believable transformation and has some lovely moments on songs: “Deep in the Ground” and “He Could Be a Star.”
Emrey Nash is charming and sassy in the role of Debbie Wilkinson, the ballet teacher’s slightly neglected, attention-seeking daughter.
Mary Upchurch designed the costumes and plays a number of roles, most sweetly the ghost of Billy’s mum.
James Crowe is impressive as Billy’s brother, Tony. He expresses Tony’s frustration with the miners’ lot and baffled resentment at Billy’s imminent escape, all of which finally soften into love and pride.
Crowe lived in County Durham for three years. He helped coach the cast in dialects, and the North English accents are remarkably good throughout. Artistic director Jamie Lawson directs the Theatre Alliance production.
“Billy Elliot: The Musical” is based on the 2000 film of the same name. The music is by Elton John, and the book and lyrics are by Lee Hall, who wrote the film’s screenplay.
The musical premiered on London’s West End in 2005 and won four Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical. The production ran through April 2016. In New York, it won 10 Tony Awards and 10 Drama Desk Awards, including, in each case, Best Musical.
Before he was the current Spider-Man, Tom Holland played Billy between 2008 and 2010 on the London stage.