Thursday, 28 May 2009

Musical May

It's been a good month for musicals.

Alongside the preview we were lucky enough to catch of the new show, Sister Act The Musical, I've also finally been able to see Billy Elliot on stage.

People at work have recommended Billy Elliot to me before. (It comes up in LK's top 3 from time to time, I'm sure.) I was slightly unconvinced. I love the film, but I didn't really see how it would be any better on stage. I mean, how can anyone beat Jamie Bell and Julie Walters?

All I could see was a classic Sandy and Danny situ all over again.

I recently saw Wicked for the first time too (last month) and did really enjoy it. It's pretty silly, but that's not a bad thing! The opening was pretty unconvincing; not knowing anything about the show, I felt kind of lost for the whole of the first song or two. Once it got going, and I started to understand the tongue-in-cheek nature of the show, I really began to enjoy it. By the time Elphaba was flying, A and I were totally engrossed in the silliness of it all.

But back to Billy.

My word, it really is amazing. Lee Hall's story, made into a musical, becomes incredibly sophisticated, much more than a cheesy "show", layered, meaningful, upsetting, emotionally challenging, funnier, sadder, wittier, cleverer, and astonishingly for an already-great film, much more powerful.

I loved the costumes, the politics, the music (explaining in the interval that Elton John was behind it all sent A into a stammering confusion of buts and ands...), the set, the script and the dancing.

The juxtaposition of the police officers, miners and the young ballerinas was particularly memorable. I loved the way they used the theatre and the safety screen to such effect, bringing Billy's dad off the stage and into the audience, somehow, as Billy was auditioning for ballet school. Also memorable was Billy and the older dancer's duet. Indeed, anytime Billy was dancing solo I was thrilled to be in the audience. What a star performer.

(A and I were amused to learn that our Billy was being played by one Fox Jackson-Keen. There you are rooting for this poor deprived kid from a rough area of the north, and then you realise he's just a terribly nice ACKTOR from drama school.)

But the whole play has so much to it (the social comment, the politics, the humour, the aching sadness, the exploration of the questions of talent, class, poverty, gender roles and so on), I can't help but think that my recent enjoyment in the audience of Billy Elliot might've been what slightly marred Sister Act The Musical for me. Shallow is an understatement, but I'll review in due course, once press night's been and gone.

And of course, I'm not the only person to enjoy Billy Elliot: it's been nominated for 15 Tony awards on Broadway. Remarkable. Let's hope he wins!

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