Friday, June 03, 2016

"Billy Elliot" – A Joyous Event at Village

Billy Elliot older and younger duet (Mark Kitaoka)
Billy Elliot the Musical
Village Theatre
Issaquah: through July 3, 2016
Everett: July 8-31, 2016

Village Theatre has undertaken an enormously difficult challenge with the mounting of the musical Billy Elliot, by Elton John and Lee Hall. I think they’ve pulled it off, by golly!

It’s based on the movie about a young British boy who finds a love of ballet, during the 1983 mining troubles there. The gritty miners, including Billy’s own family, have great difficulty moving past their prejudices about ballet, but finally find their way to supporting Billy in his quest to get to ballet school.


While that sounds like a spoiler, perhaps, the great joy in the musical is watching it unfold and seeing the dance extravaganza. In particular, the role of Billy is relentless. The boy has to be in almost every single scene and does the vast majority of the dancing, some of it by himself. In order to keep from exhausting one young talent, most productions hire several Billys to make sure the role can be managed many times per week.

The four boys performing Billy for Village are (in alphabetic order) Nikita Baryshnikov, Vincent Bennett (the boy I saw perform), Bito Gottesman and Philipp Mergener. Vincent has a young and pleasant singing voice, does a great job of the acting, and works diligently at the difficult choreography. Very likely as he and the rest of the young men progress through this experience, they will all grow enormously in their abilities to handle such a big responsibility.

They’ve been working pretty much weekly for months to manage the choreography, with hands on help from Katy Tabb, the young up and coming choreographer who absolutely killed (in the good way) each and every choreographic task. There are a passel of young girls who have ballet class dancing and a big number of their own, a solo for Billy where he displays his anger and frustration, a duet with an “older” Billy in a dream-type sequence that is danced with Scott Brateng, who looks spectacular in it, and several different styles of music. Tabb’s effort is a huge highlight of the production.

The rest of the vibrant cast is excellently filled with Village veterans like Eric Polani Jensen as Billy’s dad, Matthew Kacergis as Billy’s brother, Eric Gratton, Greg Stone and Greg McCormick Allen, and includes Mari Nelson as the gutsy, pretend-hard-hearted ballet teacher, and Faye B. Summers making a welcome stage return as Grandma.

A couple of youngsters take on the sweet role of Michael, the cross-dressing boy who gives Billy some courage. I saw Quinn Liebling (the other is Bryan Kinder) who was quite adorable and funny.

The set, a difficult aspect to pull off well, is by Bill Forrester, and pull it off he does! Somehow, a two-story spiral staircased bedroom and other large pieces of scenery are whisked on and off the stage almost by magic. Maestro Steve Tomkins makes everything move, and Cynthia Savage and her costume shop pull off great, colorful togs, with lights by Alex Berry and sound by Brent Warwick. Music direction by Tim Symons brings to life a relatively complex score with a pretty tiny orchestra. They provide a lush background.

This is a very big effort for this company and a joyous and well done production after all the effort. Kudos to pulling it off and you should go and have a great time. (Note to folks with younger kids, there is a heavy accent to learn to understand, and also some fair amount of swearing, so be aware that it is about a younger boy, but maybe not for younger children.)

For more information, go to www.villagetheatre.org or call 425-392-2202.