KANSAS CITY, Mo —
Undoubtedly, the biggest selling point for “Billy Elliot the Musical” is the original score by Sir Elton John.
The fact that the show won 10 Tony Awards in 2009 including “Best Musical” may not mean nearly as much to Kansas City theatergoers. After all, Elton John is a rock icon with a loyal, if not rabid following.
But as is evident in the ebullient Broadway Across American production now playing at the Music Hall, John’s serviceable score is the least of this entertaining show’s virtues.
Based upon the popular 2001 movie, “Billy Elliot” tells the tale of an eleven-year-old English lad (played on opening night by Drew Minard), the son of a widowed coal miner, who endures a lot of guff because he happens to like ballet. He begins surreptitiously taking dance lessons from the local teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (Janet Dickinson).
Naturally, Billy’s friends and family think he should be taking boxing lessons instead. That’s particularly true because the story takes place during a 1984 miner’s strike and Billy needs to know how to take care of himself on the mean streets of Durham.
But Billy finds an advocate in Mrs. Wilkinson, who helps prepare Billy for auditions for the Royal Ballet School. A series of conflicts are set into motion that could prevent Billy from ever achieving his dream of attending the RBS in London.
This success of this sort of show is utterly dependent upon the strength of the actor who plays Billy. Fortunately, young Minard is terrific, handling the difficult dancing, singing and acting chores with apparent ease. Because of the age of the performers involved, Minard, Ben Cook, Noah Parets and Mitchell Tobin share the role on a rotating basis.
Strong turns from Dickerson as Mrs. Wilkinson, Patti Perkins as Billy’s dotty grandmother and Rich Herbert as Billy’s disapproving dad are a big help, too.
But it’s the energetic choreography by Peter Darling, the sure-handed direction of Stephen Daldry and the insightful script by Lee Hall that give “Billy Elliot” its kinetic appeal. (All three performed the same duties for the original, non-musical film version.) Plus, it packs an emotional punch that’s derived from its appealing ‘underdog vs. the odds’ scenario.
While it is sometimes hard to decipher the thick blue-collar English dialect (peppered with a copious measure of profanity…parents beware), the story is easy to follow.
The only real downside of this otherwise tight production is its length. At two hours and fifty minutes, it seems padded. Some judicious editing would add a bit of momentum to the proceedings.
But “Billy Elliot” is an engaging crowd-pleaser that succeeds with or without the contributions of its most famous contributor.
“Billy Elliot” runs through January 27th at the Music Hall, 301 West 13th St., Kansas City, Mo. For ticket information, call 816-745-3000 or visit http://www.ticketmaster.com.