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Theater Review: "Billy Elliot"

“Billy Elliot” plays through October 8, 2017 at the Spreckels Theatre, 121 Broadway, downtown.
Photo credit:
Ken Jacques

“Billy Elliot” ran for 11 years in London, but the Tony-winning musical only runs through Oct. 8 locally, so get your tickets for this terrific production now.

San Diego Musical Theatre and California Ballet jointly present a sparkling production of this endearing show (based on the 2000 film, but with music by Elton John) at the Spreckels Theatre.

“Elliot” is the story of 11-year-old Billy (Charlie Garton), son of a widowed coal miner in a north England industrial town. Charlie isn’t interested in learning how to box, which dad (Doug Tompos) wants him to do. Billy wants to dance.

This does not sit well with dad, not just because it’s a “sissy” thing to do, but because dad is preoccupied with his own problems: “Billy Elliot” is set in 1984, the year of the coal miners’ strike that (with Margaret Thatcher’s help) eventually put an end to the coal industry in Britain.

But Billy is a dreadful boxer, and dad is too busy to bother teaching him. Billy gets encouragement from his dead mum (Morgan Carberry, in a beautifully calibrated performance) and support from his best buddy Michael (Mackernan Jarman).

You know what happens: Billy stumbles into a ballet class, where gruff-talking (but with a heart of gold) ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson (Joy Yandell) recognizes talent when she sees it. She takes Billy under her wing and gets him an audition with London’s Royal Ballet School. And the rest is, well, dance.

Liverpool native Neil Dale directs a huge (and hugely talented) cast of 37. Add to that Don Le Master’s 13-member orchestra of 13 and you get a big, wonderful production.

The big find here is Charlie Garton as Billy. Ten-year-old Garton (who greatly impressed Dale when they were in a production together last year) may be a year younger than his character, but he is a born dancer, with the stage presence and delivery of a fine actor. He’s a pleasure to watch.

Jared Nelson’s choreography takes advantage of the ability of the many young people from CalBallet to fling themselves and others around with no apparent effort (this old lady is envious).

The choreography is all excellent, but a few pieces stand out. At one point Billy and CalBallet soloist Zachary Guthier as Adult Billy do a stunning pas de deux to part of “Swan Lake,” stunningly lit by Christina Martin.

And earlier, the miners, town folk, kids and all get involved in the jaunty “Solidarity” number, with striking miners, townspeople, cops (okay, bobbies) and tutu-clad girls do a huge production number.

Yandell and Tompos impress as the ballet teacher and Billy’s worried dad. Comic touches are added by Donny Gersonde as Mrs. Wilkinson’s accompanist and Alexandra Gonzalez as Billy’s grandma.

But plot aside, this show is about dance, and there’s plenty of it here. And really, where else will you see dancing bobbies and coal miners in tutus?

The details

“Billy Elliot” plays through October 8, 2017 at the Spreckels Theatre, 121 Broadway, downtown.

Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (858) 560-5740 or sdmt.org