Billy Elliot was a hard-hitting film that intertwined the beauty of dance with sentiments of toxic masculinity, as well as giving us an intense glimpse into the class struggles working-class England faced in the early 1980s. Not your obvious choice of musical magic; however, Elton John was so moved after seeing the film at Cannes that he had the grandiose idea of bringing it to the stage. At first, his conceptualisation was met with hesitation. Soon though his enthusiasm became contagious and before long he had a whole creative team sharing his passion and coaxing it into reality.
Flash forward to present day and I find myself in the audience at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre about to witness his vision unfold. I’m excited for what I can only imagine are dazzling dance numbers, ingenious sets and phenomenal performances. So it’s with utter disappointment that I find this not to be the case at all. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle and was gobsmacked at the talents of such a young cast, particularly the young actor that played Michael, Oscar Mulcahy (more about him later). However, the whole production just fell flat for me.
The opening number was lacklustre and the large ensemble seemed to be overcompensating for a lack of ingenuity when it came to set design. Some of the songs were downright grating (sorry Elton), and the majority of the performances lacked any real oomph so to speak. The standouts were the young performers who carried the entire show. River Mardesic who played Billy for the Melbourne league of the tour is a star in the making. Every time he would dance or sing, my eyes would well up and a range of emotions would be present. Awe, intrigue, jubilation, but mostly a sense of respect that he has passionately honed his craft at such a young age.
Now let’s go back to Oscar Mulcahy our young Michael. What a performance! He had the audience in hysterics with his perfectly timed comedic delivery, flamboyant character, and unapologetic fabulousness. Wouldn’t life be grand if we all had a friend like Michael? The chemistry between Mardesic and him was magical to watch and their dance numbers an absolute pleasure to witness. Comedically Michael only slightly outshone young Debbie played by Ella Tebbutt, who with a lascivious edge set her sights on poor Billy. One cheeky conversation (in which Debbie offered to show Billy something of a rather personal nature) set the audience off into fits of giggles that lasted for minutes to come. I definitely haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.
Criticism aside, although not the greatest show ever to grace the stage, Billy Elliot The Musical still had its moments. It was largely heartening despite the bleak narrative, it delivered glimpses of comedy gold, and allowed young performers an opportunity to make their grand musical debut. I look forward to following the careers of these young stars whilst they leap and tap their way to critical acclaim.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Billy Elliot The Musical is currently playing at The Regent Theatre in Melbourne. It will be playing in Melbourne until the 19th of April 2020.
Tickets can be bought HERE.
The reviewer attended the opening night on the 22nd of February, 2020.
Photo Credit – James D. Morgan