Monday, November 22, 2010

Leaping with Faith

(Faith Prince, top, as Mrs. Wilkinson, with Giuseppe Bausilio, left, as Billy; Patrick Wetzel, right, as Mr. Braithwaite; and the ballet girls in "Shine" in the touring production of "Billy Elliot." Photo by Michael Brosilow.)
Concerning "Billy Elliot," now at PlayhouseSquare, I'm half-convinced that I loved it, but to make sure I pulled off the interview of the century. I've gotten Keith A. Joseph's Id to chat with Keith A. Joseph's Ego.

Id: Why should I attend a musical that isn't called "Gypsy"? Once you've encountered perfection, why go anywhere else?

Ego: First of all, you cannot spend the rest of your mobile years waiting for the next "Gypsy" revival. Of course, with "Billy Elliot" you have to put up with Elton John's anthem-laden score, far closer to the bombast of "Les Miserables" than to the trumpeted show-biz sass of Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim's paragon of all scores.

Id: True, but what about theatrically?

Ego: OK, I admit it. They're both about escaping a hum-drum life with a domineering parent. But "Billy Elliot" is graced with Peter Darling's choreography, which is the equal in storytelling panache to anything De Mille or Robbins pulled off. Agnes had her dream ballets and Jerry had his leaps into the human psyche. Darling combines the two in a surrealistic clash of artistic expression and police-state brutality.

Id: It isn't all doom and gloom, is it?

Ego: Don't forget those tap-dancing dresses and Margaret Thatcher monster puppet, or the adorable little ballerinas being lifted by those macho bobbies.

(Ethel Merman, center, with Sandra Church and Jack Klugman in "Gypsy." Photo by Leo Friedman.)

Id: Hold on. How can you have a thrill without a Mama Rose to insert steel into the protagonist's spine?

Ego: "Billy Elliot" fills the bill. Instead of a child-eating show-biz mother from Seattle, there's a sharp-tongued ballet instructress from the gritty north of England who lives out her dreams through her youthful charges. Here, as played by the indomitable Faith Prince, she's every bit as fierce and funny as Gypsy's monumental Mom. (Oh, Faith, when will you take your turn as Rose?)

Id: Why shouldn't I wait until some local community theater tackles "Billy Elliot"?

Ego: Get real. What community theater could field the brilliant actor-dancers, a director and choreographer with the talents of Stephen Daldry and Peter Darling, and a production on a scale that continues to wow audiences in London, New York and elsewhere? Add to that a title role so demanding that the touring production at PlayhouseSquare requires five boys alternating performances.

Id: OK. If you don't tell Ethel, I won't tell Roz. Let's go see it.

Ego: Together, wherever we go.

The touring production of "Billy Elliot" runs at the State Theatre in PlayhouseSquare through Sunday, Dec. 12. For tickets, go to or call 216-241-6000. 

1 comment:

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. What score? "next to Normal" was the much worthier recipient of the TONY Award for Best Score that year. Keep up your great reviews. Cleveland needs an honest and knowledgeable theater critic voice like yours!
    Can't wait to see "Dividing the Estate".

    The Persian Prince