NS reviews

Reviews of theatre and art in Nova Scotia and beyond

Billy Elliot More Than Worth The Wait; tickets still available

Nathan Malolos as Billy Elliot at Neptune Theatre to June 18 (Stoo Metz)

Delayed by the pandemic for three years, Billy Elliot storms onto the Neptune Theatre stage in an exciting whirlwind of steeped emotion, powerful dance and heart-throbbing music.

This excellent, high-octane production of the Tony Award-winning musical has an unusually high number of actors for Neptune – 32 – and is helmed by the same team behind Neptune’s 2018 hit Mamma Mia! – director Jeremy Webb, choreographer and co-director Ray Hogg and musical director Paul De Gurse, leading a five-piece band.

There are two triple threats starring as Billy – Lennox Blue Powell and Nathan Malolos – and a wonderful group of young female ballet dancers in Mrs. Wilkinson’s dance class.

The show I saw featured Nathan Malalos as Billy, got a standing ovation and reduced the three women behind us to gulping tears towards the end. (I cried myself.)

Told in broad strokes of high emotion, Billy Elliot is set during the bitter and violent 1984-1985 British miners’ strike and tells the story of an 11-year-old boy who accidentally discovers a love for dance when he stumbles into a ballet class taught by the frustrated Mrs. Wilkinson, an unforgettable character as portrayed by Patricia Zentilli.

She is a tough, embittered woman but she sees where the light gets in and loves children, even though she’s always saying to her daughter, “Piss off Debbie,” and criticizes one of her dancers for moving like “a drunken starfish.”

In this hardscrabble world the language is rough and salty and defines its people; it’s unusual to hear young kids on stage swearing but it’s true to the play

Billy lives with his grandmother (the wonderful Nicola Lipman) and his mining father and brother who think ballet is for the elite and male dancers are “poofs.”

Lennox Blue Powell as Billy Elliot (Stoo Metz)

This coming-of-age musical, with music by Elton John and book and lyrics by the 2000 movie’s screenwriter Lee Hall, explores gender, class and identity at a time when post-industrial, working-class masculinity in Britain was in crisis, similar to America’s crisis years later that (in part) fueled the passion for Donald Trump. Remember his promise to make the Rust Belt great again?

Billy wants to be free to be himself in a community that – unwittingly – is against him as the miners fight for their traditional way of life. (The strike against the closure of non-profitable collieries and its loss was the death knell for coal mining in Britain. It’s easy for Nova Scotians to connect this strike to the collapse of mining and fishing industries here.)

Dance and song (and lighting) vividly create the chiaroscuro effect contrasting the miners, in a formidable male cast portraying rough and tumble, hard-working men, and Mrs. Wilkinson’s colourful dance class full of giddy girls played by an equally formidable, young female cast.

Winnipeg actor, competitive dancer and singer Nathan Malalos is amazing as Billy in his energy and emotive power in spoken voice and song apart from his athleticism as a dancer. Paul Fawcett shines as Billy’s adorable, feisty, cross-dressing friend Michael and the number where the two boys joyfully jazz dance together with the sudden appearance of somewhat creepy, giant dancing dresses is a show highlight.

Billy Elliot is a feat of direction by Neptune Theatre’s artistic director Jeremy Webb who has to fit everyone and everything smoothly onto a small stage. He goes for pizazz in the show-stopping numbers though doesn’t skimp on the quieter, emotional scenes.

The lighting by Jess Lewis is beautiful and a key component whether it is hot and high contrast or elegant and lovely; note the soft, ghostly blue for the male dancer and the full light on Billy in the Swan Lake duet where Billy’s father realizes his son’s talent. Brian Dudkiwicz’s set creates the world of a tenement street, an apartment and a mineshaft elevator. Its chilling when the miners celebrate their unity and community by going down – literally beneath the stage – into the mining pit.

Halifax dialect coach Sherry Smith has everyone talking in very convincing North England accents and Lara de Bruijn’s costumes suit the time period and the characters in particular Mrs. Wilkinson and her striped socks.

Webb first announced this show five years ago. “It’s been a long, at times heartbreaking, journey to this point,” he says in a press release. “Our patrons have been so patient, and I am confident that our audiences are going to be thrilled with this production. With 85% of the cast and crew hailing from Nova Scotia, I am so proud to showcase the immense talent we have in this province.”

The hometown cast includes Zentilli, who was raised in Halifax, graduated from the Dalhousie Theatre and was a staple at Neptune in the 2000s and Neptune stalwarts Nicola Lipman and Troy Adams. Ian Gilmore does a loveable star turn as the drunken piano player in Mrs. Wilkinson’s class and Ryan Rogerson is a good, solid striking miner with a gruff voice. Tim Funnell (Murdoch Mysteries, Neptune’s Mamma Mia!) plays the father as an empathetic mix of harsh, frustrated and loving, and Halifax actor David Light is almost too good as the hot-headed, violent brother who won’t budge. Neptune Theatre School actors Onyeka Ezurike as Debbie and Paul Fawcett as Michael are both naturals on stage and ones to watch.

Friday May 5 is a gala performance celebrating Neptune Theatre’s 60th anniversary.

Categories: Uncategorized

1 reply

  1. This is a terrific show – or was on Broadway. See it if you can!


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