Saturday, April 16, 2011

Billy Elliot!

Kieran's birthday present this year was tickets for the four of us (sans Nicholas) to see "Billy Elliot: The Musical" this afternoon. He'd seen the following trailer on a DVD, and when he saw it was coming to Portland he started begging to go see it. I responded that we had already spent a lot of money on theater this year, so sorry. What he didn't know was that I had bought tickets a few months ago, just on the hunch that it would be something he would love.

In preparation, we got the Billy Elliot DVD out of the library so he could watch it first. I figured it was PG-13, so imagine my shock when I saw that it was rated R. Allow an 8-year-old to watch an R-rated movie? Never before in my parenting lifetime. But what could I do then? We watched it this week, and the only reason for the R rating is the foul language, similar to "The King's Speech." I warned him never to repeat the words he was about to hear! Both of us had tears rolling down our cheeks during the scene where they read the letter from Billy's dead mam.

I enjoyed the musical even more than the movie, although as musicals usually go, it was even more unrealistic. (The police officers and miners dancing together, interspersed with the ballet dancers? And the final encore when all the men come out in tutus?) Theater critics appear to have been less enamored of the show than the audience.

But we all loved it. We had great seats thanks to my cousin's wife Ginger, who used to work at the Portland Opera and has connections. I cried even more watching the play than I had during the movie--all of us did.
The cast has four different Billys, who take turns playing the highly demanding role. This afternoon, Daniel Russell played the role of Billy. It's easy to see why they have four different actors: Billy is on the stage during nearly every scene.

A few characters play bigger roles in the musical than the movie--namely Billy's cross-dressing friend Michael; his ballet teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (who is quite the diva); and also Billy's nana, who is less senile in the play. Each of these have their own solos and opportunities to shine.

They did Americanize the play in a number of ways. No self-respecting Northern English town would say "Santa Claus" (it would be "Father Christmas"). Instead of saying "he's always pissed," it was "he's become an alcoholic." And Debbie offers to show Billy her "hoo-hoo" instead of her "fanny." (Fanny actually is a slang word for female genitalia in the UK, rather than a bottom.) The Santa Claus scene was the most glaring. Kieran also caught that they said "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Christmas."

I couldn't help but think of some parallels to Margaret Thatcher Britain and what's happening in Wisconsin and across the U.S. today. However, it seems that the Brits have way more passion about it (read: violent protest) than Americans do. (Ten people died during the year-long U.K. miners) strike. Now that way of life is no more, and I wonder what happeened to all those thousands of men and their families who lost their livelihoods. Now Britain imports 98 percent of its coal.

The company was raising money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS after the show, and for a $20 donation we got a poster signed by the whole cast. Another theatergoer gave her own poster to Kieran, so both Chris and Kieran got one.

Kieran pronounced it as the best show he'd ever seen, better than "The Lion King." I love successful birthday "experience" presents like this one!

Here's one of the original Billys performing "Electricity" for a BBC fundraiser:

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