Miners

Billy Elliot The Musical

Billy Elliot the Musical. Music by Elton John, book by Lee Hall. Directed by Kimberly Dooley. Berkeley Playhouse, 2640 College Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94704.

Director Kimberly Dooley should be very proud of her achievement in bringing to life this 2009 Tony Award winning musical. Set amidst the economic despair of a small mining town in North Eastern England, the story of young Billy’s struggle for personal fulfillment and creative passion resonates universally in this beautifully staged production. Using a large dual cast, including 30 actors/dancers under the age of 15 can be a daunting task, but Dooley and co-choreographer Allison Paraiso succeed in maneuvering the action with nimble control.Kirsten Royston’s set design of floor to ceiling industrial window panes is elegant and precise.

An angry Billy (PARKER JAMES FULLMORE) grapples with his dream to dance in the reality of his coal-mining town. Photo by Ben Krantz Studio.

An angry Billy (PARKER JAMES FULLMORE) grapples with his dream to dance in the reality of his coal-mining town. Photo by Ben Krantz Studio.

I admit upfront I was a huge fan of the Lee Hall 2000 film directed by Stephen Daldry. The movie and Jamie Bell’s performance as Billy soared, a feeling I did not experience with the translation to stage musical created in 2005. I find Elton John’s score mediocre and forgettable, so I was shocked that it received such critical acclaim on Broadway. There, I said it.

Still, Dooley has created a colorful, at times magical production, that is sure to uplift its audience. For my performance I saw Parker James Fullmore in the role of Billy and he did exude the sense of a burgeoning talent; crude in his first dance attempts, but bursting with unbridled enthusiasm and daring. Taylor Bartolucci is wonderful as the coarse but determined ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson, who becomes a substitute mother figure and mentor for young Billy. Mary Gibonney is a hoot as the comic granny, especially when she sings her “Grandma’s Song”, humorously damning her marriage.  Ken Sonkin is heartbreaking as Billy’s downtrodden father; torn between his image of a ‘real’ man and his son’s pursuit of ballet and the potential loss of his mining job and earning ability. Zachary Padlo is fine as Billy’s tough as nail’s brother Tony, who starts out disapproving, but is swayed by familial love.

Billy and Michael (PARKER JAMES FULLMORE and DAVID RUKIN) want to know what's wrong with expressing yourself. Photo by Ben Krantz.

Billy and Michael (PARKER JAMES FULLMORE and DAVID RUKIN) want to know what’s wrong with expressing yourself. Photo by Ben Krantz.

There are some beautiful images in Dooley’s staging, most notably a scene where the miners, with headlamps lit, descend into the bowels of the mines. Kudos to Musical Director Rachel Robinson on creating a lush soundtrack.Berkeley Playhouse should be congratulated for their foresight in presenting Billy Elliot at this juncture in time; when arts funding may be cut, music in the schools may be extinct, and communities are still struggling with loss of manufacturing jobs and a way of life. The message of daring to dream must remain alive for this and future generations.

Performances run through March 25th, 2017     www.berkeleyplayhouse.org    510.845.8542