On Stage: Billy Elliot

I’ve seen many fine shows at The Muny these past few years but I doubt I’ll ever see anything better than the show I watched last night.

The Muny opened its 96th season Monday night with an outstanding production of “Billy Elliot The Musical,” propelled by a fabulous performance by 14-year-old Tade Biesinger in the title role.

Based on the 2000 British film “Billy Elliot,” the story takes place in a small mining town in Northern England in 1984. Billy lives with his father (Daniel Oreskes), brother (Ben Nordstrom) and grandmother (Patti Perkins).

One day Billy has a chance encounter with a girls’ ballet class led by Mrs. Wilkinson (Emily Skinner). Intrigued and showing a natural talent for dance, Billy trades in his weekly money for boxing lessons for ballet lessons. He doesn’t tell his family.

Meanwhile the miners have begun what will turn out to be a year-long strike in opposition to the policies of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. This puts the Elliot family, and the entire town, in a state of turmoil.

Convinced of Billy’s potential, Mrs. Wilkinson begins giving him private lessons in the hopes that he will be good enough to audition for a prestigious ballet school. But when the time comes, will Billy’s family — and the community — be supportive of this new career path?

“Billy Elliott” features music by Elton John and book and lyrics by Lee Hall. The songs range from inspiring to melancholy and all are entertaining and delivered by strong vocalists. While the songs are fine it is the footwork that is the main attraction.  Choreographer Alison Levenberg takes advantage of the Muny’s huge performance area to stage a number of high-energy, captivating dance numbers.

In addition to Biesinger’s fantastic footwork, other performers of note include Skinner as the tough, sympathetic dance teacher; Oreskes as the tough, eventually supporting father; Perkins as the grandmother; and Michael Harp as Billy’s flamboyant best friend.

An impressive set design caps off this all-aces production. Director Steven Minning keeps the show moving at a brisk pace. I have some pity for the shows that will have to follow this act.

If you love dance you will love “Billy Elliot” (I don’t even love dance and I loved “Billy Elliot”). If you love musical theater you will love “Billy Elliot.” If you love Margaret Thatcher, well, you might want to wait for “Tarzan.”

“Billy Elliot The Musical” runs through June 22. http://muny.org/

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