IBJOpinion

LOU'S VIEWS: Chicago joins the 'Billy' club

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Lou Harry

This week, the Broadway sensation “Billy Elliot” dances into Chicago for an extended run. And, closer to home, the Phoenix indulges in some conspiracy theorizing.
__________

There’s a very good reason “Billy Elliot: The Musical” isn’t spoken of in the same way as other film-to-theater adaptations like “Footloose,” “9 to 5” or “The Wedding Singer”: The Tony-winning show, having its Midwest premiere at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre, feels like it was sparked by artists, not by business folks. When “Billy Elliot” soars—and it does every time the title character finds that he can communicate better through dancing than words—the force comes from within the character, not from the production office. And that force is a wonder to behold.

In case you missed the film the play is based on, the story concerns a young boy whose town is caught up in the British coal miners’ strike of 1984. In the midst of the tumult, Billy falls in with a seen-better-days dance teacher and finds he has the talent—and the drive—to transcend his surroundings.
 

A&E The lead role in “Billy Elliot” is so demanding that leads rotate in the part. On opening night, it was Cesar Corrales, above. (Photos Courtesy Joan Marcus)

“Billy” may be uniquely suited for a stage musical. But there are challenges, some of which are met and some not. Conventional wisdom is that a big musical needs more than one person dancing. But dancing miners undermine Billy’s specialness and would be wildly out of place in a show so anchored in reality. For the most part, the show creatively works around that seeming contradiction by using the ensemble in abstract ways, never having them dance as part of a realistic scene. They accent, for instance, the memory song of Billy’s grandma (an outstanding, understated Cynthia Darlow) or present the strike-breaking opposition in Billy’s bravura “Angry Dance.” None of this seems jarring or trivializing in a show that opens with documentary footage of the actual strike.

Where “Billy” sometimes falters is when it doesn’t trust the truth of its characters. A sweet scene with Billy’s cross-dressing pal doesn’t need to resort to a giant fantasy dance with oversized dresses on parade. A second-act opener, set during a holiday pageant, undermines the reality of the strikers’ struggle: Shouldn’t the miners have spent money on, oh, food instead of a massive Margaret Thatcher puppet? Not long after that, a stunning “Swan Lake” duo dance for Billy and his older self turns Peter Pan-ish when the boy is connected to a too-obvious wire and spun high above the stage. Lesson: Theatrical magic doesn’t always require special effects.

The music—by Elton John with lyrics by the film’s screenwriter, Lee Hall—serves the piece well but doesn’t have that “gotta listen again” quality that turns a score into a classic independent of the show itself. The exception is “Electricity,” a beautiful song that seems to come directly from Billy’s heart and brain.

Speaking of Billy, on opening night, the role was played by Cesar Corrales, a 13-year-old who studied at Canada’s National Ballet School. Corrales isn’t just an accomplished, athletic, graceful dancer. He’s also someone we want to watch for 2-1/2 hours, which is just as important. For the show to work, we have to see both the ordinary and the extraordinary in him. When he dances, our souls have to dance with him. Corrales does that without ever seeming like he’s showing off. (Your Billy may vary: Three other young men rotate the role in the Chicago production.)

By the time we see “Billy Elliot” in Indy, Corrales and his compatriots may well be graduating high school. In the meantime, the Chicago production—like the blockbusters “Wicked” and “Jersey Boys” before it—has settled in for an open-ended run (although, for the time being, tickets are only on sale through Oct. 24). For information on the show, visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.
__________

As with many conspiracy theories, I had trouble believing Steven Dietz’s “Yankee Tavern” (through May 1 at The Phoenix Theatre).

At first, I thought this might be due to Stephen Hunt’s soft, affected portrayal of Ray, a suspicious-of-everything squatter in the building that houses the title tavern. I’ve been around conspiracy buffs, both stable and unstable, and what’s consistent is their firm belief in the connections they are finding and their steadfast refusal to accept coincidence. It’s a fascinating and terrifying mind-set, one that can switch from funny to irrefutable in a heartbeat. With Hunt, though, it seems merely a quirk.

There’s more going on in “Yankee Tavern,” though, than just paranoid talk. The barkeep (solidly played by Shane Chuvalas) may have had an affair with a government-connected professor. The mysterious stranger at the bar may have information on the 9/11 attacks. And, in Dietz’s most disposable twist, there may even be ghosts upstairs.

There’s palpable suspense (aided by Matt Kelly’s sound design) in a confrontation between the barkeep’s fiancée and the aforementioned stranger. And the writing constantly pushes forward, keeping the proceedings from becoming dull. But I don’t think it unreasonable to expect a play that uses the destruction of the World Trade Center as its playground to build to something stronger than minor gunplay, unbelievable spy maneuvers and an ambiguous ending. I didn’t experience the thrills I should get from a thriller or the thoughts I should have after a thought-provoking drama.

Instead, I left with the sense that “Yankee Tavern” was a few drafts away from being a solid play. Or that aliens and the CIA had tampered with it on the way to the stage.

For more information, visit www.phoenixtheatre.org.•

__________

This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming A&E events to lharry@ibj.com. Twitter: @IBJarts.

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Angela IS the best RD

  2. We are a nation of speed. All of our younger lives are filled with deadlines, quotas and bottom lines. We start to ease out of the pressured rat-race when we finally see "retirement." The most enjoyable travel on the planet is passenger rail service. Indy to Chicago does not beat Megabus or Southwest Airlines in speed. Passenger rail however has the best seating, mammoth legroon, seat backs that recline to more than 45 degrees and employers that really want you to return as a customer. Indiana municipalities need to maintain subsidies to support this transportation mode. Losing it is loss for all of us.

  3. Good day! I just want to testify how i got my loan from Mr. Eric Lefkofsky after i applied several times from various loan lenders who claimed to also testify right in this forum,i thought the testimonies where real and i applied but they never gave me loan. I was in need of an urgent loan to start a business and i applied from various loan lenders who promised to help but they never gave me the loan. Until a friend of mine introduce me to this popular Mr. Eric Lefkofsky who promised to help me and indeed he did as he promised without any form of delay. I never thought there are still reliable loan lenders until i met Mr. Eric lefkofsky who indeed helped me with the loan and changed my belief. I promised to share this testimony after I got my loan. I don't know if you are in any way in need of a genuine and urgent loan,free feel to contact Mr. Eric Lefkofsky via their email{grouponfunding@hotmail.com}

  4. Its a THUG issue. Bleecker Street and NYX are thug bars. They attract thugs of all races. Places that attract thugs need to be kicked out of Broad Ripple. Ain't nobody got time for that!

  5. Hello everyone, My name is Marian Gareth, I am from the Texas, United State, am here to testify of how i got my loan from Mr Andre Frank {frankloancompany@yahoo.com} after i applied Two times from various loan lenders who claimed to be lenders right in this forum,i thought their lending where real and i applied but they never gave me loan. I was in need of an urgent loan to start a business and i applied from various loan lenders who promised to help but they never gave me the loan.Until a friend of mine introduce me to Mr Andre Frank the C.E.O of Andre Frank Loan Company who promised to help me with a loan of my desire and he really did as he promised without any form of delay, I never thought there are still reliable loan lenders until i met Mr Andre Frank, who really help me with my loan and changed my lief for better. I don't know if you are in need of an urgent loan, free feel to contact Mr Andre Frank on his email{ Frankloancompany@yahoo.com} for help

ADVERTISEMENT