BILLY ELLIOT Soars with One-Two Punch of Grittiness, Sensitivity

by Aug 6, 2015

Original review here: http://newsok.com/article/5438330

By Rick Rogers for THE OKLAHOMAN

BILLY ELLIOT is a risky proposition for any company to consider, but Oklahoma City’s Lyric Theatre more than does it justice. Lyric’s production, much like the title character demonstrates in the glorious dream ballet, takes spectacular flight. Don’t miss it.

For a musical about a young boy who starts out taking boxing lessons, “Billy Elliot” doesn’t pull any punches. It is frequently tough, stark, gritty and intense, descriptions that may seem at odds with what we usually encounter in the musical theater.

Photo: The cast of “Billy Elliot.” [Photo by K.O. Rinearson]

But “Billy Elliot” also focuses on that same young boy’s sensitive side. As we watch his tenuous dance attempts turn into skillful choreographic displays, we silently cheer him on in a journey that takes him from a life of poverty to Britain’s Royal Ballet School.

Set against the 1984-85 miners strike in northern England, “Billy Elliot” has a depth and range that few musicals achieve. As author and lyricist Lee Hall aptly noted, “The power of the piece is in the contrast between the roughness and the delicacy.” That duality allows it to exert an emotional hold that evokes laughs as often as it does tears.

“Billy Elliot” is a risky proposition for any company to consider, but Lyric Theatre’s production more than does it justice. Ashley Wells’ splendid direction and Amy Reynolds-Reed’s innovative choreography make this a must-see experience.

Elton John (yes, the pop singer) has created a score for “Billy Elliot” that deftly insinuates itself into one’s consciousness with soaring anthems (“Solidarity,” “Once We Were Kings”) and genuinely poignant numbers (“The Letter,” “Deep Into the Ground”).

The Lyric production boasts a splendid cast, from young Billy, played by 12-year-old Brooks Landegger in his musical theater debut, to Brenda Williams’ hysterical star turn as Billy’s Grandma.

Watch as she argues with Billy’s dad and brother about whether to open a letter that arrives after Billy’s audition. It’s first-rate comic genius. Darren Drone also gets an unexpected moment to shine as Mr. Braithwaite, the dance class accompanist.

Christopher Bloch demonstrates considerable theatrical range as Billy’s dad, a man who berates his son when he learns of his interest in dancing but ultimately swallows his pride and supports Billy’s dream.

Tim Rogan offers an equally compelling performance as Billy’s older brother Tony, as does Rachael Barry, who, as Billy’s late mum, exudes a sense of calm that makes her exchanges with Billy so touching.

Landegger rises to the many challenges set before him as Billy, from demonstrating skillful athleticism in the “Angry Dance” to commanding the stage with a palpable sincerity in “The Letter.”

Billy is understandably sheepish when his friend Michael (played by Evan Lennon with equal parts humor and flamboyance) encourages him to forget his inhibitions as they don women’s clothing and launch into the joyous “Expressing Yourself.”

But Landegger is at his finest in “Electricity,” Billy’s explanation about how he feels when he’s dancing. What a joy it is to witness the well-deserved and lengthy ovation that follows.

Lyn Cramer gives an incomparable performance as Mrs. Wilkinson, one that ranges from confrontational scenes with Billy’s dad and brother to the thrilling exuberance that emerges when she and Billy launch into “We Were Born to Boogie.”

As Mrs. Wilkinson barks commands at her young dancers, Cramer summons an air of sarcasm bordering on disdain. But even more powerful is Cramer’s ability to deliver key lines she shares with Landegger with tremendous honesty.

With expert musical direction by David Andrews Rogers, careful dialect training by Rena Cook, a hard-working ensemble and the aforementioned contributions by Wells and Reynolds-Reed, Lyric’s “Billy Elliot,” much like the title character demonstrates in the glorious dream ballet, takes spectacular flight. As it soars, it lifts the spirits of everyone in its wake. Don’t miss it.

 

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