MELANIE MINTY: Kudos to the kids of Arts Club’s inspiring ‘Billy Elliot’

This absolutely stunning production is brilliant on so many levels

Nolan Fahey (right) and ballerina dancers in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of “Billy Elliot” — a theatre experience that will stay with you forever

It takes a village, so I’ve heard, to raise a child. Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of the musical “Billy Elliot” is a living, breathing, literal and metaphorical translation of this “it takes a village” concept. This absolutely stunning production is brilliant on so many levels, I can’t even start. If you have a child who is different, or born with a desire to dance, or find yourself in need of a village, “Billy Elliot” is the show to see, at Vancouver’s Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until July 10. More than half the cast is made up of children, so note that on Tuesdays through Thursdays there is an earlier start (7:30 p.m.) than Friday and Saturday shows (8 p.m.). Tickets start at $29 via 604-687-1644 and Artsclub.com.

I saw the film, and it wasn’t one of my favourites. So I went to opening night not expecting to much like this show. I mean, how good can it be when most of the story is carried by kids? Not New York kids, either, just kids who have taken dance classes and theatre training locally. They have other lives, go to regular school and love to perform. Sort of normal.

Well, kudos to the kids. They are brilliant. Nolan Fahey is Billy. He is a natural talent, but has focused on his studies at Lindbjerg Academy of Performing Arts. He has the character, the accent and dance skills! “The Angry Dance” is a powerful tap number, and the ballet number of “Swan Lake” with Older Billy (Matthew Cluff) are both demanding and memorable. Then there is the show-stopping performance of Valin Shinyei as Billy’s friend, Michael. He will capture your heart with the number “Expressing Yourself.” Michael, like Billy, is different. He owns it.

The ballet class is six young dancers of various sizes and shapes. They do look like something straight out of recreational type of class you might find in Yorkshire. They show us how to shine. Adorable are Taylor Dianne Robinson, Julia MacLean, Arta Negahban, Kristi Low, Avril Brigden and Jordyn Bennett. “The huge ensemble dance numbers really emphasize the energy and conflict in the show,” says choreographer Valerie Easton. The little ballerinas in pink tutus weave between the miners and the police. Again, very powerful – and well done, Valerie.

(Story continues below show trailer)

The adult cast is very strong, accomplished and experienced. They could take the show away from the kids. They don’t. It’s a village. Of course I loved Gordon Roberts as Mr. Braithwaite. He shows off his tap skills in “Born to Boogie” and is just the guy needed to play the piano for the little ballerinas. Caitriona Murphy is Mrs. Wilkinson, the dance teacher who sees something special in Billy and encourages him. Dance teachers everywhere will identify with Mrs. W.; she never gives up, and keeps teaching dance to the untalented – because she believes, and is part of the village.

I know I said I didn’t particularly care for the film, and this musical is based on the acclaimed film. Then there is the music by Sir Elton John. “Billy Elliot” is an inspiring tale of courage, ambition and overcoming adversity. It’s 1984, and County Durham’s coal miners are set to go on strike when 11-year-old Billy finds his way into Mrs. Wilkinson’s ballet class following his boxing lesson. He hates boxing, and is slow to take to the dance, but his inherent ability is discovered, and Billy is encouraged to audition for the prestigious Royal Ballet School in London. The reactions of his father (Warren Kimmel) and brother (Danny Balkwill), who are both wrapped up in the escalating strike situation, are not supportive at first. Boys don’t dance, they box, and grow up to be miners.

But in the end, the whole village comes to support Billy, even the scab miners. It’s a story that is a global musical phenomenon and is a theatre experience that will stay with you forever. It takes a village.

melminty@telus.net

 

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