Joyous ‘Billy Elliot’ wears its heart on its sleeve
OGUNQUIT, ME –– There are many reasons to visit the beautiful seacoast of Maine this summer, and one of them happens to be theatrical.
The Ogunquit Playhouse on Route 1 was one of the first regional theaters in the country given the right to produce “Billy Elliot, The Musical” — currently it is the only theater in the U.S. performing the show — and the production at the theater through July 26 rivals and in many ways surpasses the national touring production that stopped in Boston in 2012.
“Billy Elliot, The Musical” is set against the backdrop of the coal miners’ strike of 1984-85, and the union’s fight to the death against the government led by Margaret Thatcher.
The show makes no bones about where its sympathies lie — with the striking miners, whose way of life and jobs held for generations were being taken away.
Lee Hall’s book does a fine job conveying the spirit of the screenplay he wrote for the 2000 movie, which was directed by Stephen Daldry, who also directed the original production of the musical.
Hall also wrote the lyrics for Elton John’s music. Peter Darling choreographed both the film and the musical.
The score is not in the same class as Sir Elton’s award-winning “The Lion King” or he and Tim Rice’s underrated score for “Aida,” but it does a good job conveying the mood of the piece and it has its moments.
This “Billy” also has a strong Greater Boston flavor, with Noah Parets of Sharon sharing the role of Billy with Sam Faulkner, Parets reprising the role he played in the Second National Tour, and Alec Shiman of Brookline playing Michael, his gentle, cross-dressing friend.
The production also features several other veterans of Broadway or the national tour of the show, including Joel Blum as George, Armand Schultz as Billy’s coal-miner Dad Jackie, and Stephen Hanna, who plays Older Billy and engages in an energetic pas de deux with Parets as the younger Billy
Anthony Festa provides a lot of energy as Tony, Billy’s hot-headed older brother who is also a miner, and Anastasia Barzee is a standout as Mrs. Wilkinson, the sassy, no-nonsense ballet instructor who sees the promise in young Billy and convinces him to seize the day.
And lest the ongoing sadness of the miners’ strike and Billy’s struggles to convince his family about his desire to dance bring you down, there are humorous moments from Dale Soules as Billy’s foul-mouthed but loving grandmother, doing her best to fill the gap left by the death of Billy’s mother; Blum as George, who runs the local boxing club and is the life of the annual Christmas party; and Greg McCormick Allen with a nice comic turn as Mr. Braithwaite, the besotted accompanist at the ballet school who gets a chance to strut his stuff in “Born to Boogie,” one of several fine production numbers choreographed by Adam Pelty.
Parets as Billy is a most talented and energetic dancer who trains with the Boston Ballet and the Gold School of Brockton, where TV/film star and nonpareil dancer Kenny Wormald got his start.
Unlike other summer theaters that rely on tours, the Ogunquit Playhouse prides itself on creating its own productions from the ground up, and in this case Campbell Baird created his own unique vision for the sets.
He captures the essence of a down-on-its-luck mining town, the ballet school, the union hall, and Billy’s home with pieces that seem to fit together and then quickly morph into something else again.
Director BT McNicholl says in a message in the program that Billy’s story is, in many ways, his story — his father was surprised to find he had a son who was in love with the arts — and that probably contributed to the love and care with which he directed this production.
That love shines through, and “Billy Elliot” wears its heart on its coal-stained sleeve.
Only the most hardened hearts won’t be tearful at Billy’s letter to his late mother, finally letting her go as he embarks on his career at the Royal Ballet School.
Oh, and when the show appears to be over, it really isn’t. The entire company joins together for a rousing dance finale
The Ogunquit Playhouse has been at its current location since 1937 and is now managed by a non-profit corporation. It is comfortable, beautifully air-conditioned and adjacent to excellent restaurants and one of the finest beaches in the Northeast.
This year the theater will be open for five productions from the end of May until the end of October, bridging three seasons, its longest season in history, and publicist Cheryl Farley is optimistic that between the theater’s large subscription base and energetic single ticket sales, the seats will get filled.
If “Billy Elliot” is any indication, they will be.
“Billy Elliot, The Musical,” through July 26 at the Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main St. (Route 1), Ogunquit, ME. http://www.Ogunquitplayhouse.org