By Mary Boyle
Though the mindset is thankfully changing, our culture has not always been very supportive of boys who want to dance, and this was especially true in the 1980's, when the Aids Epidemic, which villainized the gay community, was in its height. The mid-1980's was also the time of a massive coal miner's strike in North East England, which pushed thousands of families into poverty. This was the setting of the 2000 film, Billy Elliot, in which eleven year old Billy discovers he has a passion and talent for ballet, but is scorned by members of both his family and his community. The critically-acclaimed film was adapted for the stage and made its West End debut in 2005, and its Broadway debut in 2008; now, you can get your taste of Billy Elliot, The Musical at the Waukesha Civic Theatre through November 11th.
Featuring music by Elton John, Billy Elliot, The Musical is every bit as inspirational and moving as the film. Billy (Ryan Vanselow) has lost his mother (Gwen Ter Haar), and his father, Jack (Corey Patrick), and older brother, Tony (Ben Bartos), are immersed in the miner's strike, leaving Billy and his Grandmother (Maggie Wirth) mostly on their own. When Billy is made to stay late after his boxing class, he finds himself swept up in Mrs. Wilkinson's (Caroline Miller-Bayer) dance class. Though he'd never admitted it, Billy secretly loves to dance, and though Mrs. Wilkinson's mouthy daughter, Debbie (Maddie Dixon), doesn't see it, Mrs. Wilkinson notices Billy's talent. When Billy's father finds out that Billy is using his boxing class money for dance class, he bans Billy from both classes. Thankfully, Mrs. Wilkinson refuses to give up on Billy, and offers to train him, anyway, so he can audition for the Royal Ballet.
Directed by Mark E. Schuster, Billy is not as well cast and set as last season's Hunchback of Notre Dame), which Schuster also directed, but its lack of a live orchestra and a few rough edges are made up by the apparent dedication of the cast and crew, some stellar individual performances, and the support of this delightful little community theatre in the heart of historic downtown Waukesha. Ryan Vanselow is clearly a talented tap dancer, actor and singer; despite the fact that his ballet was a bit rough, he makes an admirable WCT debut, and the entire show is filled with magical moments. Corey Patrick, who was fantastic as Cogsworth at Sunset Playhouse's Beauty and the Beast last season, gives a wonderful performance as Billy's father in this production. Maggie Wirth's "Grandma's Song" is brilliant, and both her, Billy and Caroline Miller-Bayer shine when they all sing together in "The Letter." The absolute stars of the show are the kids: besides Vanselow, Maddie Dixon is priceless as Debbie, and Liam Thomas, who plays Billy's friend, Michael, gives a brave, exceptional performance. The adorable award goes to Reece Dixon, Maddie's little brother, who makes his scene-stealing WCT debut.
While I found it hysterical to hear foul language coming out of the mouths of babes (and Grandmothers), audiences should be prepared for mature language and tweens exploring their sexuality. Aside from that, a community and family putting aside their prejudices and struggles to come together and help a young boy with a dream is a story that needs to be heard, right now, and this cast does a fine job of telling it.
Billy Elliot, The Musical, runs through November 11th at Waukesha Civic Theatre, located at 264 W. Main Street in historic downtown Waukesha. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office at 262.547.0708, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or online at http://www.waukeshacivictheatre.org/.
The Waukesha Civic Theatre, Inc. is a non-profit corporation whose mission is to provide quality live theatre performances and educational opportunities that will enrich, challenge and entertain both participants and audience members. In July of 2006, the Waukesha Civic Theatre began its 50th season. With that historic season, WCT joined an elite group: according to the American Association of Community Theatres, of the roughly 7,000 community theatres in the United States, only about 100 can claim 50 years of continuous operation. It has undergone many positive changes from its beginnings in 1957 with productions at Waukesha High School. In 1999, WCT moved from a former church to a beautiful new facility in the heart of historic downtown Waukesha. The building, a former historic PIX movie house, was donated to WCT by Bryce Styza, a prominent local developer who saw the power that the theatre could exert in revitalizing downtown. Since the theatre opened in 1957 to the start of its 51st season in September of 2007, over 10,000 people have volunteered and 200,000 audience members have been entertained.