'Billy Elliott' is a dance of despair and hope
“Billy Elliot, the Musical” is a buoyant blast of movement and song and a beautiful dance of light and dark.
Directed by Shawn Ramagos, the regional premiere of “Billy Elliot” opened last week at Camelot Theatre in Talent. It tells a story of community, despair, hope and rough love.
A young boy discovers his talent for ballet in the midst of the ruinous North East England coal strike of 1984. The boy’s delicacy, his light and beauty clash with the daily brutality of the rural mining village as he refuses to box and instead dances whenever he can. As the miners strike in solidarity and are beaten down by police, the adult violence counters the lighthearted resilience of childhood.
The boy is Billy Elliot, played on alternate evenings by two Grants Pass brothers, Corban and Eli Foster, each with their own interpretation of the role — though true to script, blocking and direction. The boys’ slight frames, sweet faces and sloppy, childish clothes belie the strength and concentration needed for the dance. The Foster boys have trained for the ballet, hours and hours every day, and their talent shines brilliantly in “Billy Elliot.” Both show a supreme grace and freedom of movement as well as vocal abilities that are far beyond their years. These boys, each on their own nights, are at the center of the performance, flying from the rafters in a dreamlike sequence of autonomy and abandon, commanding the stage in the seven movements of the ballet or in manic tap.
Corbin’s performance is more vulnerable, and his play seems lit with love, while Eli’s performance is defiant, so his play seems fueled by fire. Both interpretations are wonderful.
Derek Rosenlund is Billy’s father, a miner who stands strong with the union and who is lost at home trying to care for his family. Rosenlund’s performance is touching, his vocals full of loss and longing. Rosenlund’s character demonstrates painful class differences and the confusion of a man living in a changing world.
New on the Camelot stage is young Dominic Walsch of Talent, who has an innate sense of comedic timing and improvisation. Throughout the show, Walsch stole the set with impromptu, ingenuous and exaggerated calls for attention. The audience can’t help but laugh and cheer at Walsch’s antics.
Melanie Marie, who choreographed Camelot’s “Pricilla” last season, is choreographer and dialect coach in “Billy Elliot.” She is also cast as Mrs. Wilkinson, the village dance teacher who alone offers love and inspiration to young Billy, giving him a way out of a life in the mines.
Marie is clearly multitalented, using movement and lighting to show the collision of intense emotion and violence especially evident in the powerful and poignant “Angry Dance” number.
Marie as Mrs. Wilkinson also manages a gaggle of girls, giggling and goofy in ballet who are among “Billy Elliot’s” most endearing characters. These soft slippers, pink tutus, leotards and fans dance about in the midst of angry confrontation, that contrast of light and dark so thrilling in the show. Ava Code has grown 2 feet since “Mary Poppins,” Aria Risling ably demonstrates her ballet training at Studio Roxander, and they are joined by Holly Laney as Angela Robinson and Haven Foster as Tracy Atkinson. The Fichera sisters, Maddy and Izzy, as Debbie Wilkinson and Alison Summers respectively, are adorable. Madeleine especially shows the focus and professionalism of an experienced actor and is hilarious as she throws her long hair about or screams for her Ma. Some of these young actors have been on the Camelot stage before and many have trained in Camelot’s youth conservancy program.
Erny Rosales is in the ensemble and also has the role of Mr. Braithwaite, a swarthy, cigarette smoking piano player who accompanies Mrs. Wilkinson’s lessons. Rosales releases his inner Erny in a hysterical sartorial deconstruction that leaves him in slippers and leotards dancing a duo with Marie.
The set of “Billy Elliot” is yet another of Shawn Ramagos’ ingenious designs, with two large mobile pieces that transform the stage from a close, warm home to the town square sided by forbidding brick buildings. Billy’s bedroom on the second level of home is a softly lit refuge, above the small kitchen where his family comes together. The set pieces rumble and clank and shake as they move, reflecting the mechanics and machinery of the mines that are the economic and heritage heart of the community.
There are lots of lessons in “Billy Elliot,” many talented actors and lots of entertainment. We know that community can bring love and demonstrate great generosity, and the full cast performances of “Solidarity” — first in anger, and later in tenderness — is both moving and heartwarming.
“Billy Elliott, the Musical” will continue through Oct. 13, in Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., in downtown Talent. For more information and tickets, call the box office at 541-535-5250 or see CamelotTheatre.org. Tickets cost $30-$38, $10 for students with an ID. A performance to benefit Southern Oregon Friends of Hospice will be held Wednesday, Sept. 25.
Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at firstname.lastname@example.org.