Theatre has an invaluable power. It has the incredible ability to transport you into another world - just for a few hours. And although many shows have this skill, Billy Elliot stepped it up yet another level as it opened at Birmingham Hippodrome. The UK tour has settled in the heart of England and boy is it one to watch. Utterly captivating from the moment the curtain rose, the show takes you on an emotional rollercoaster as you follow the life of little Billy Elliot and his journey to become a dancer.
Facing many obstacles along the way, including his bigoted Father (Martin Walsh) and a bullish Brother (Scott Garnham), Billy overcomes all of this in a heart-warming production that addresses many sensitive themes, from homosexuality to violence and politics.
Littered with brilliant music, the show feels less of a musical, but more a show with music. And this is a good thing. The storyline alone is wonderful and the addition of music lifts it, injecting an added energy and warmth.
Lewis Smallman's Billy is of course the star of the show. His talent shines and it was made lovelier by the thought he’s a local lad from West Bromwich. Playing to a home crowd, there was a palpable thrill in the atmosphere. His breathtaking dancing kept audiences on the edge of their seats, resulting in a rapturous applause at the close of Act 1. What makes this role so incredibly special is the need for a triple threat performer. Dancing, acting and singing – Smallman had it all in bucket loads. Showcasing his trio of skills in Electricity, the passion for his craft was irrefutable.
The notable highlight was undeniably the wondrous Swan Lake sequence. As Billy dances with his older self (Luke Cinque-White) tears welled in the eyes. Poignant and touching, the mirrored choreography was nothing short of perfection. His relationship with his deceased Mother (Nikki Gerrard) was also beautifully conjured up, particularly through their moving interaction in The Letter. Although the Hippodrome’s vast stage could easily take away the intimacy of these scenes, it was the lighting (Rick Fisher) and set design (Ian MacNeil) that cleverly sucked you into their world.
Annette McLaughlin was superb as dance teacher, Mrs Wilkinson. In great voice her hilarious acting was a joy to watch. The trio of McLaughlin, Smallman and Daniel Page (Mr Braithwaite) in Born to Boogie was an absolute crowd pleaser and had the audience in fits of laughter. However, you found your gaze would always take you to McLaughlin, and as her tenacious character mellowed there was a real beauty to her final exit.
Lovely support came from the entire ensemble, with foul-mouthed Grandma (Andrea Miller) delivering many a scene-stealing moment and Martin Walsh as Billy's Dad showcasing true skill as he transitioned from ignorance to acceptance. But it was Michael (Elliot Stiff) who shone. When paired with Smallman they were a sheer delight to watch. They're roof-raising anthem to being who you are, Expressing Yourself, really struck a chord. The words are clever, witty, funny, yet incredibly powerful and the whole number was a plethora of colour and sparkle.
The intricate combination of direction (Stephen Daldry) and choreography (Peter Darling) was clear throughout. Solidarity provided a particularly standout moment as police, miners and ballerinas combined, as scenes overlapped one another. This pinpoint precision allowed smooth transitions throughout the show and was further aided by the ingenious set design.
This is an absolute corker of a show and you'd be mad to miss it. I guess I can't really explain it, I haven't got the words, but just go and see it!
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