AUCKLAND THEATRE COMPANY
ASB Waterfront Theatre
Director: Colin McColl
Book & Lyrics: Lee Hall
Music: Elton John
Choreographer: Malia Johnston
Opening night of the brand spanking new ASB Waterfront Theatre, the Auckland Theatre Company’s dream home, called for a production with significant razzle dazzle. Cue: Billy Elliot The Musical, the musical theatre extrapolation of the beloved and highly sucessful film directed by Stephen Daldry in 2000 on a modest budget of just £3 million.
As is often the case with musical theatre, Billy Elliot The Musical has diluted the poignancy and upped the feel-good factor to create a performance with broad audience appeal. With music by Elton John, we lost some of the iconic score that contextualised the film so beautfully; I Love to Boogie and Cosmic Dancer by T Rex in particular. The stage show retains some of the magic one-liners, however, which keep the audience giggling, particularly when they’re delivered by children.
Despite a few technical hitches on opening night (the most glaring adeptly handled by twelve-year-old Jaxson Cook as Billy), the production values are high and the stage design is impressive. The onstage musical ensemble is a nice touch, with the musicians visible upstage throughout the performance.
The storyline follows Billy, a young boy growing up in a macho mining town, as he dreams of becoming a professional classical dancer. With a backdrop of 1984-1985 nationwide miners’ strike in Thatcher’s Britain, the context of the production is a powderkeg of economic desperation, homophobia, violence, and patriarchal bigotry. Much of the sting is taken from this tale in Billy Elliot The Musical, with the chorus of police frolicking onstage like a scene from a Monty Python film.
Although classical ballet is at the heart of the story, there is very little in the stageshow’s choreography. As musical theatre tends to do, Billy Elliot The Musical relies heavily on tap, stylised and sharpened ‘ballet’ steps that are effectively jazz, and simple, repetitive chorus movements. One of three kiwi lads cast as Billy, Jaxson Cook does a stellar job on opening night, coping well with the accent, singing and characterisation. Although a good little mover, the physicality and vocal demands sometimes left the young performer breathless.
Stanley Reedy is an impressive and flamboyant Michael, and provides some of the best dance performances of the night. Stephen Lovatt as Jackie Elliot is the most authentic and rich of the characters in Billy Elliot The Musical. His performance is detailed, sustained and offers as much onstage as Gary Lewis did in the original film. Rima Te Wiata plays a colourful and lively Grandma, a complete deviation from the original role, but an audience favourite none the less.
The choreography of Auckland Theatre Company’s Billy Elliot The Musical is very close to the original West End production. An ongoing issue in a country lacking government-funded full time arts training for young performers is balancing the requirements of the imported production with the experience of the cast members available. Replicating all of the features of the original choreography (multiple fouettes, ensemble tapping, temps levé) would ideally be tempered by highlighting the strengths of each individual performer in the NZ production.
Billy Elliot The Musical is a very long show - roughly three hours – and with a late starting time of 8pm might not be appropriate for all family members. The language, too, is something to consider here. Overall, the production is enjoyable, if somewhat drawn-out, and the opening night audience rewarded the tenacious cast with a partial standing ovation and genuine warmth.
cred: Michael Smith Photography