by Shirley Lorraine
Billy Elliott Dances into Simi
Billy Elliott, the Musical is the current offering by Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi, now playing at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center. Based on the 2000 film, the staging features music by Elton John with lyrics and book by Lee Hall. Hall also wrote the screenplay for the film.
The story takes place in England and centers around Billy, young son of widower Jack Elliott, a coal miner. The family has been struggling to make ends meet since the death of Billy’s mother and now find themselves amid a union strike at the mines. Through a chance opportunity, Billy joins a ballet class and discovers that he both enjoys dance and has a talent for it. However, his father thinks he is taking boxing lessons. Emotions run high as his father comes to grips with Billy’s ambition to pursue dance, fearing that his own masculinity will be questioned by the other miners.
The Simi staging, directed by David Ralphe, provides a raw look at the values of family, community, unity and ambition. Peppered with talent both onstage and on the creative team, the production is a standout in the season. The cast uniformly handles the challenging accents well throughout, even though sometimes the words were hard to make out due to the unfamiliar phrasing. The gamut of emotions is covered, bringing anger, joy, surprise and even tears in all the right places.
One word of caution – the language used in script and song for both the adults and the children may shock some. However, the crude unsophisticated language is fitting for the setting, the situation and the characters.
The title role of Billy is played by Marcello Silva, who displays triple-threat skills. He has a strong singing voice, is a quite competent dancer in both ballet and tap, and carries his role with skill and confidence.
The large cast features solid performances by all, most notably Andy Mattick as Dad, Kayla Bailey as Dead Mum and MarLee Candell as Mrs. Wilkinson, the jaded ballet school teacher.
Stellar character roles are imbued with energy and depth. Kathleen Silverman plays it up as Grandma and Adam Womack kicks up his heels in a hysterical display of artistic expression. Noah Godard offers surprises as Billy’s friend Michael, including some fancy footwork.
Choreography by Becky Castells is creative. Even the miners and the police are given their turns to add a few steps, all well done. The cadre of young ballet girls pirouette and point with excitement and varying capability befitting their young ages. They complement Billy’s obvious dance training nicely.
A large orchestra provides more than ample sound which the actors must work to overcome in places, even with microphones. With the orchestra in front of the stage, patrons in the first few rows of seats will doubtless strain to hear the dialogue.
Billy Elliott won’t appeal to everyone due to its argumentative style. However, the characters pull you in and envelope you in the end. It is a performance well worth attending.
Billy Elliott continues through August 27. Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Ave, Simi Valley. $25 general admission, $22 seniors and students, $18 children 12 and under. 583-7900, simi-arts.org.