Theatre Review: ‘Billy Elliot: The Musical’ at The Stratford Festival

Nolen Dubuc (centre) as Billy Elliot with members of the company in Billy Elliot the Musical. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

I only knew three things about “Billy Elliot: The Musical” when I sat in my cushy Festival Theatre seat one Saturday afternoon. One, that a very talented young actor was about to do a lot of impressive ballet; two, that Elton John wrote the music and; three, that it featured a super catchy song called “Solidarity” that one of my college roommates got me hooked on nearly a decade ago.

With that same roommate by my side in the Festival Theatre at the Stratford Festival, I spent the entire two hours and 41 minutes of “Billy Elliot” with my mouth agape at this truly stunning production.

. . .truly electrifying. . .

Billy Elliot is the son of a widowed miner during the 1984 miner’s strike in a northern English mining town. While his father and brother are out on the picket lines, Billy disdainfully attends boxing lessons. When he is forced to stay late one night to finish his reps, he is thrown into the ballet class that takes over the same gymnasium where he discovers his passion for dance and wows the instructor and students with his incredible raw talent.

As a dancer myself and knowing how central dance is to “Billy Elliot,” I was ecstatic to see Donna Feore at the helm as director and choreographer after being blown away by her work in “The Music Man” last year. This show was no different in terms of its impressiveness, featuring intricately powerful ballet sequences and tap combinations performed by both veteran Stratford actors and the incredible cast of young people.

Now, it was the only song I knew going in, but “Solidarity” was just unbelievable. The ballet class where Billy truly shines for the first time shares the stage with a standoff between the miners’ picket line and the police force. The juxtaposition is visually stunning, and makes for some great choreography opportunities that Feore was not shy about taking advantage of.

Nolen Dubac is Billy Elliot, marking his Stratford debut. He’s sassy, expressive and endearing, not to mention an outrageously talented dancer. He shines especially in “Angry Dance,” a charged number backed by loud music and cries of frustration, and “Electricity,” a beautiful song and dance describing what it feels like to dance.

Blythe Wilson is Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy’s ballet teacher. Wilson struts out in the ideal 80’s workout look complete with leotard and leg warmers complete with biting criticisms and a cigarette. Her convincing coldness is harsh enough to make us believe she’s nothing more than a bitter has-been and then Wilson truly shines, letting Wilkinson’s passion for dance re-ignite as Billy discovers his.

Dan Chameroy is great as Billy’s father, shining especially during the beautiful and slightly heart-breaking “Deep Into the Ground.” Emerson Gamble is also hilarious as Billy’s best friend Michael, shining brighter than the sun in “Expressing Yourself.”

The explosion of dance and feeling that is “Billy Elliot” is also heavily supported by the incredible talents of lighting designer Michael Walton, projection designer Jamie Nesbitt, sound designer Peter McBoyle and set designer Michael Gianfrancesco. Those production elements need to fill a lot of space in the Festival Theatre and they all worked seamlessly to surround the cast, presenting the audience with stunning theatrical imagery.

Stratford’s “Billy Elliot” is a truly electrifying production. Grab your passport and head North to see this remarkable cast – you won’t regret it.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 41 minutes including a 20 minute intermission

“Billy Elliot: The Musical” runs through November 3 at the Festival Theatre at Stratford Festival. For more information, click here.