Billy Elliot The Musical has taken two-and-a-half years to make it to Milton Keynes Theatre but it opened on Wednesday in show-stopping style.
This glorious, inspirational tale of a young boy from a tough mining community who dreamt of becoming a ballet dancer, is a triumph from its rousing, militant start to its sensational, tap dancing finale.
It is the end of the road for showbiz Billy. Its three week residency at Milton Keynes is the last time the show will be seen in the UK although I can’t believe that it will stay away forever.
After its June 17 closing in Bucks the show moves to Germany and then this dancing juggernaut will pirouette off into musical theatre history.
Billy Elliot first premiered in the West End in 2005, following in the footsteps of the film version which made a star of young actor Jamie Bell. It went on to become a global phenomenon.
So it seems particularly disappointing that this colossus of a show has only toured the UK this one time.
But Milton Keynes has it for three weeks and this blockbuster should not be missed.
Its left-wing politics are nailed firmly to the riot shields wielded by the chorus-line of coppers in Lee Hall’s gritty story that is told from the miners point of view.
It’s the summer of 1984 and the country’s first miner’s strike has been called following Maggie Thatcher’s decision to close unprofitable coal mines.
In the tough, no-nonsense mining town of Easington, Co. Durham, the men are facing picket line violence and the families deprivation, but for the kids, it’s life almost as normal.
For motherless Billy, a 12-year-old lad, that means boxing lessons which he hates. Asked to stay behind to hand over the door keys to the ballet class next up in the hall, Billy finds himself drawn to the dancing.
“Oi you! Join in or bugger off,” shouts dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson, and Billy takes his first tentative steps into the world of ballet.
But his newfound passion has to be kept a secret from his dad who expects his lad to grow up a tough bruiser, not pirouetting across a stage.
The success of the show sits on the shoulders of its children. Anna-Jane Casey is superb as Mrs W and Martin Walsh excels as Billy’s rough and ready pitman dad but it is the central performance of Billy that holds it all together.
The show has four youngsters for each of the main juvenile parts, plus more than 40 in the ensemble playing coppers, miners and kids and wives.
Opening night saw Haydn May as Billy and Henry Farmer as his cross-dressing, flamboyant young friend, Michael, and they were splendid.
It’s a pity Michael isn’t given more to do because the cheeky youngster steals every scene he’s in. And, talking of scene-stealers, watch out for the antics of ballet class piano player Mr Braithwaite (Daniel Page).
There are a lot of men in this production, who, I’m sure they won’t mind me saying, are taller and beefier than your average dancer.
As authenticity goes, they are more credible as miners who like to sink a few pints after a shift, than likely to be found in tap and ballet classes.
But don’t let size fool you. This is a seriously talented ensemble.
Elton John’s songs and Peter Darling’s clever choreography are rousing. Big set pieces that are particularly memorable are Solidarity, the vibrant, surreal and funny Expressing Yourself, and Billy’s Angry Dance.
I was inexplicably moved by Billy’s Swan Lake with his older self, almost certainly due to the mesmerising, immaculate and wonderfully elegant performance of featured dancer Luke Cinque-White. It’s spellbinding.
Andrea Miller is hilariously anarchic as Billy’s rebellious and foul-mouthed granny and Scott Garnham delivers a fine performance as the boy’s older brother, Tony, who finds himself at war with his own father.
The raw emotion in Billy Elliot is electric. Northerner Hall wrote from the heart and his passion and anger burns through every powerful scene.
But away from the politics Billy’s story is joyous, inspirational and life-affirming and it’s no wonder that this musical has been a multi-award winning success.
A masterpiece of musical theatre. Buy tickets before it’s too late.
Billy Elliot The Musical
A powerfully told, inspirational, story that combines joyous ambitions of a young boy with the fury of a community under threat. A masterpiece of musical theatre.