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"Billy Elliot", the Musical, at the Imperial Theatre
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"Billy Elliot", the Musical, at the Imperial Theatre

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Universal Pictures Stage Productions,
Working Title Films, Old Vic Productions,
in Assoc. with Weinstein Live Entertainment

Billy Elliot, The Musical
(Billy Elliot, The Musical Website)

Book and Lyrics by Lee Hall
Music by Elton John
(Based on the 2000 Universal Studios Film)

At the
Imperial Theatre
249 West 45th Street

Kiril Kulish as Billy
Haydn Gwynne as Mrs. Wilkinson
Gregory Jbara as Dad
Carole Shelley as Grandma
Santino Fontana as Tony
Joel Hatch as George
Frank Dolce as Michael
Erin Whyland as Debbie
Mitchell Michaliszyn
Daniel Oreskes as Big Davey
Stephanie Kurtzuba as Lesley
Donnie Kehr as Scab/Posh Dad
Leah Hocking as Mum
Thommie Retter as Mr. Braithwaite
Stephen Hanna as Older Billy/Scottish Dancer
Keean Johnson as Posh Boy
Jayne Paterson 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
Costume Design: Nicky Gillibrand
Lighting Design: Rick Fisher
Sound Design: Paul Arditti
Musical Supervision/Orchestrations: Martin Koch
Music Director: David Chase
Assoc. Choreographer: Kathryn Dunn
Asst. Choreographer: Nikki Belsher
Hair/Wig/Makeup: Campbell Young
Adult Casting: Tara Rubin Casting
Children’s Casting: Nora Brennan
Resident Director: BT McNicholl
Production Stage Manager: Bonnie L. Becker
Music Contractor: Michael Keller
Production Supervisors: Arthur Siccardi/Patrick Sullivan
Press: Barlow*Hartman
General Management: Nina Lannan Assoc./Devin Keudell
Advertising: SPOTCO
Produced by David Furnish, Angela Morrison,
Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Jon Finn, Sally Greene

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 19, 2008

As a balletomane, I was at first apprehensive to see ballet within a play about a British miner’s strike, with riot police and a busy storyline, all to the music of Elton John. What an incredible surprise, that I sat so transfixed throughout Billy Elliot’s two act extravaganza, that I could not write one note on my program. This is a show that satisfies on every level –fascinating visions, momentous music, dance by the pros (ballet, tap, modern, ballroom), tutus worn and tutus that dance, lighting that morphs from smoke to clouds, acting that sears the heart, a plot with twists and turns, a character as a ghost, sets to the rafters, humor for kids and adults, and even a history lesson in the middle. Lee Hall (book and lyrics), Elton John (music), Peter Darling (choreography), and Stephen Daldry (direction) could be this season’s Broadway Stars, for a dazzling concept that lights up the Imperial Theatre for almost three hours straight. This new Billy Elliot, the Musical, adapted from its run on the London stage, was originally, in 2000, a Universal Studios film, which I now must run to rent.

The show centers around young Billy, who lives with his widowed coal-miner father and brother in Northern England, during the 1984 Miner’s Strike. Margaret Thatcher (as the program tells us) had the will to crush the unions, and she brought in riot police and imported coal, winning her way with brutal force and Conservative politics. In the midst of his family’s violent turmoil and impending joblessness, Billy discovers ballet! He happens onto Mrs. Wilkinson’s (Haydn Gwynne) class for girls and is coaxed into practicing by Gwynne’s daughter, the most adorable and campy little ballerina (Erin Whyland). Three actor/singer/dancers play Billy, on a revolving schedule, and tonight I saw Kiril Kulish, who revealed extraordinary talent, as the plot progressed, with superb elevation, instantaneous spins, strong vocals, and persuasive acting. The plot thickens somewhat, as Billy’s father (an unforgettable Gregory Jbara) morphs from tough authoritarian to supportive arts-enthused parent, longing for a future for his son.

Haydn Gwynne, meanwhile, with shiny tights and a downtrodden posture, also finds personal meaning in Billy’s bravura ballet, the dream student of every arts teacher, and she suggests the Royal Ballet School. Somehow, Ian MacNeil’s sets move swiftly from small town ballet studio to London’s Royal Ballet School, with riot police and shields in foggy lines, with Billy’s bedroom rising mid-air then disappearing below center stage, and with a Margaret Thatcher costumed party thrown in for fun. And, somehow, in the fog, appears Stephen Hanna, of New York City Ballet, as the older “dream” Billy, the fully mature premier danseur. Peter Darling’s choreography is impeccably professional, with a variety of dance genres appearing at opportune moments, never forced or frivolous. This show has a rhythm, emotional and physical, and it tantalizes and teases the audience to want more. Billy’s friend, Michael (Frank Dolce), adds elements of La Cage aux Folles, as he cross-dresses and adds lipstick with a mirror, before a deliciously delivered song, “Expressing Yourself”.

Not only do Billy, Mr. Hanna, and Michael dance up a storm, but the youthful student ensemble reminded me of the talent in many of the New York ballet schools. (The third Billy, in rotation, is Trent Kowalik). The girls knew when to really dance and when to really just be girls, and their acting was beyond their years, a tribute also to Stephen Daldry, Director, who must have exceptional patience, directing child dancers, a ballet star, and the cast of actors/singers/dancers et al. Carole Shelley, as the Grandma who dreamed and danced, remembering those fleeting happy moments of a marriage from hell, was iconic in her role. Santino Fontana, as Billy’s brother, Tony, expressed theatrical energy, while surrounded by the energy of dance and anger. That anger, in the faces and muscularity of the miners and police, added edge and excitement against the ethereal world of ballet. Yet, when the miners passed the cup, to collect coins for Billy’s trip to London, their masculinity took on a tenderness that melted the mood.

Among the numerous ensemble characters, Leah Hocking is noteworthy as the brief apparition of Billy’s mother, so loving and elusive. And, among the 15 brilliantly written and composed musical numbers, “Solidarity” (Full Company), “Born to Boogie” (Billy, Mrs. Wilkinson, Mr. Braithwaite), and “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher” (Full Company) were among the most outstanding, shining a bright light on Elton John and Lee Hall. With a few monumental musicals such as this, we might actually survive the Recession. Billy Elliot breathes hope, courage, and change. Kudos to Lee Hall, Elton John, Stephen Daldry, Peter Darling, and the entire cast of actors, singers, dancers, and technicians. And, kudos to David Chase, Conductor, and the Orchestra for keeping up with this rapidly paced show.

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