IF YOU GO
What: Son of a British coal miner dreams of being a ballet dancer
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday & Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday & Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts, 5833 Pelican Bay Boulevard, Naples
Cost: $119, $135
Information: 800-597-1900 or thephil.org
Something Else: Best availability on Saturday and Sunday evenings.
On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog
The national tour of "Billy Elliot" dances into Naples for a six-night run at the Philharmonic. The show thrills, but never quite forges the intense emotional connection it so obviously labors toward. While dazzling ballet sequences and soaring lyrics wow, they feel ever so slightly mechanical.
Adapted from the 2000 film of the same name, Elton John wrote the show's music. Original screenwriter Lee Hall wrote the book and lyrics. Hall's stage version hews closely to the film, with its tale of a young English boy in a coal mining town discovering his talent for ballet and daring to dream of getting out.
I wish I could say that "Billy Elliot" provides the same moving rush of emotion that sweeps through its parent film. It doesn't. Instead, the show resembles a calculated, commercial behemoth designed to bombard audiences into submission with thundering choruses, moody atmosphere and a feel-good ending. The hope? No one in the crowd will notice the perfunctory story, grim set and sometimes baffling storyline.
Moreso than in the film, the stage version backs onto the miner's strike to anchor its story. While this gives birth to the rousing "Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher" song at the top of act two, complete with giant Baroness Thatcher puppet rising over the stage, British industrial politics probably makes little sense to the audience. The sets, from Ian MacNeil, also feel unrelentingly gloomy.
Jamie Bell, aided by close-ups and other movie magic, brought unrivaled intensity to his celluloid Billy. Even live, that vitality feels difficult to duplicate. As much as I want to like the show, "Billy Elliot" never truly communicates the real passion of dance.
Impressive staging, much of it meant to accommodate the fact that the show uses a quartet of 12 and 13-year-old boys to play Billy, showcases the high-style quotient on display. An artful dance sequence features Billy (Drew Minard played the role Tuesday) and Christopher M. Howard spinning and leaping through an empty stage filled with smoke. Then, Minard's young Billy leaps onto a harness and truly flies. Beautiful and touching, but I wish it were less obviously manipulative.
Other sequences feel simply out of place, an excuse for colorful costumes and pizazz. Bizarre "Expressing Yourself" number sees Billy and an expressive, individualistic Michael (a delightfully chirping Sam Poon) try on dresses. Then, bulbous figures in patchwork costumes and no faces appear.
True, parts of the show deserve rapturous praise. The "Solidarity" number, which uses tiny tot schoolgirls in tutus to comment on the absurdity of violence in the 1984 British coal miner's strike, resonates with a particular quirky charm. Weaving, bobbing choreography allows the visual elements to offer a striking message on stage; pity the song's "marching forward to socialism" satire message wasn't stronger.
Janet Dickinson brings an electric tired, washed-up glamor puss flavor to her ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson. In a show that feels lifted from screen to stage, her portrayal feels a breath of fresh air. Pink leg warmers, gold platform shoes and a sassy attitude hint at a past that didn't always include a village in the industrial hinterlands.
Minard brings charm to his Billy. I especially like the natural charm he has with Poon and Dickinson. I wish the dance sequences felt more lively, although a majestic series of pirouettes during "Electricity" convinced me I liked the show.
The music feels closer to being a mercurial, volatile concept album than any sort of traditional musical theater piece. No real ballads, duets or even showstoppers appear. The strongest number, "The Stars Look Down," appears right out of the gate. The rest might be best categorized as thunderingly bland.
Moody. Impressive and grand. Dazzling in places. Music that might move the soul. Dance that soars. Look for a smoky, spiraling sequence on a stage that will make you believe in the raw power of movement. Get lost in the lights of miner's helmets as they descend into the belly of the earth. Dance. Just dance.
Full Disclosure: Naples Daily News publisher Dave Neill is a member of the board of directors of the Philharmonic Center for the Arts.