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"Billy Elliot", The Musical, at Chicago's Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre
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"Billy Elliot", The Musical, at Chicago's Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre

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Billy Elliot, The Musical
Ford Center for the Performing Arts
Oriental Theatre
24 West Randolph
Chicago, Illinois
(Billy Elliot, Broadway in Chicago Website)

Book and Lyrics by Lee Hall
Music by Elton John

J. P. Viernes as Billy
Emily Skinner as Mrs. Wilkinson
Armand Schultz as Dad
Cynthia Darlow as Grandma
Patrick Mulvey as Tony
Jim Ortlieb as George
Gabriel Rush as Michael
Maria Connelly as Debbie
Elijah Barker as Small Boy
Will Mann as Big Davey
Abby Church as Lesley
Mason Roberts as Scab/Posh Dad
Susie McMonagle as Mum
Blake Hammond as Mr. Braithwaite
Samuel Pergande as Older Billy/Scottish Dancer
Spencer Davis Milford as Tall Boy/Posh Boy
Susan Haefner as Clipboard Woman

And The Ensemble As:
“Expressing Yourself” Dancers, Ensemble,
Ballet Girls, and Swings

Directed by Stephen Daldry
Choreography by Peter Darling
Set Design: Ian MacNeil
Assoc. Director: Julian Webber
Assoc. Director Chicago: Justin Weber
Costume Design: Nicky Gillibrand
Lighting Design: Rick Fisher
Sound Design: Paul Arditti
Musical Supervision/Orchestrations: Martin Koch
Music Director: Colin Welford
Assoc. Choreographer: Ellen Kane
Dance Supervisor: Greg Graham
Resident Choreographers: Sara Brians/Sean Maurice Kelly
Hair/Wig/Makeup: Campbell Young
Adult Casting: Tara Rubin Casting
Children’s Casting: Nora Brennan
Resident Director: Steven Minning
Production Stage Manager: Kim Vernace
Press: The Hartman Group
General Management: Nina Lannan Assoc./Devin Keudell

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 20, 2010

(See a Review of Billy Elliot, The Musical, in New York)

The Billy Elliot production (see above review of the NY original) in Chicago was just as exhilarating and electric as the original was on Broadway. Tonight’s Billy, in his debut, was J.P. Viernes, a pint-sized fireball, who can dance, sing, act, and tug at your heart strings. Armand Schultz, every bit as commanding in the role as Dad, as was Gregory Jbara, who won Drama Desk and Tony Awards, was conflicted as the widower miner, the single parent who just wanted his son to grow to be a man. Morphing into a Dad who takes his son to London’s Royal Ballet School, on the advice of Billy’s once secret ballet teacher, Mrs. Wilkerson (Emily Skinner), Mr. Schultz has a theatrical challenge. He meets the shift in persona and attitude with seamless dramatic fluidity. Ms. Skinner, like Billy, holds her own in ensemble balletic sequences, as well as in the poignant scenes with her protégé, the boy who showed up in the middle of a girls’ ballet lesson, in a working-class English town.

The sets and costumes match the Broadway show, with an onstage staircase leading to Billy’s tiny bed. There’s a spartan kitchen for the hilarious Grandma (Cynthia Darlow) to eat her “pasties”, and a door for the deceased Mum (Susie McMonagle) to gracefully walk in, ghostlike, to visit with her son. Patrick Mulvey, as Tony, Billy’s macho, politically impassioned brother, who finds himself in more trouble than he needs, exuded the flashy anger and sibling protectiveness requisite to the role. Tiny Michael, Gabriel Rush, who loves to wear skirts and lipstick, added innocent spunk and unassuming chatter to the song and dance repartee with his buddy, Billy. Samuel Pergande, the Older dreamlike Billy, who seizes the stage in danseur style, has professionally trained spins and leaps. When Dad takes Billy to London, the Clipboard Woman (Susan Haefner), is as wound up as packaged twine. Little Debbie (Maria Connelly) is as perky and spunky as Billy’s ballet confidante, as was her NY counterpart.

Lee Hall’s book and Elton John’s lyrics grabbed the audience’s attention, as I saw rows of families and theatre lovers leaning forward in rapture. Of course, the riot police and miners, with shifting transparent sets and glaring spotlights, brought the house down. When the full company sang and danced “Solidarity”, Chicago was on Broadway. Michael, Billy, and Ensemble were outstanding in the dancing tutu number, “Expressing Yourself”, and the Maggie Thatcher puppet show within a show, “Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher”, had persuasive pulse. Of course, “Company Celebration”, the finale with flourish, had everyone bouncing in their seats. Kudos to Broadway in Chicago for re-creating this blockbuster so spectacularly.

Chicago's Ford Center/Oriental Theatre
Courtesy of Amy Boyle Photography

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at