Billy Elliot The Musical
Pantages Theatre | 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd | Through May 13 | Tickets start at $20 | broadwayla.org
An odd combination of straight play, musical and dance show, Billy Elliot arrives at the Pantages Theatre in L.A. with a song in its heart and a few dazzling steps on its toes. Adapted from Stephen Daldry’s film of the same name, Billy Elliot is programmed to be a crowd-pleaser even when it becomes overlong and a strange amalgamation of Les Miserables and Hairspray by way of Matthew Bourne.
Opening in 1984 as the British National Union of Mineworkers went on strike because of threatened closures of the mines by then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, we see a small mining town in trouble. People are out of work, hungry and depressed. Meanwhile, young teenager Billy (Ty Forhan) is living with his feisty Grandma (Patti Perkins), domineering Dad (Rich Hebert) and hot-headed brother Tony (Cullen Titmas). There’s a lot of strife at home and—with his mother having died years earlier—BIlly needs distractions. He finds this in boxing class. But when he has to stay after to give the room key to the ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson (Leah Hocking), he reluctantly gets drawn into the world of dance. No more than a few pliés later and Billy proves himself to be a gifted hoofer and he is convinced by Mrs. Wilkinson to keep coming to class.
His father, of course, doesn’t approve because only “poufs” do ballet, so he finds the inspiration to continue from his cross-dressing young friend Michael (Cameron Clifford), who urges Billy to be who he wants to be in a fun number called “Expressing Yourself.” Billy agrees and is soon learning the ropes of ballet on the sly. When Mrs. Wilkinson says she thinks Billy is good enough to get into the Royal School of Ballet, Billy has to find a way to go to the audition without being discovered by his Dad. But with the police causing problems for the striking miners, this will prove more difficult than he imagined.
Billy Elliot the movie was a cute little piece of inspiration that made a star of Jamie Bell. Billy Elliot The Musical is a bit of an overstuffed mix of themes and plots that doesn’t always find the footing it needs. Fitfully entertaining, the play comes to a halt whenever discussions of the strike begin, but dazzles in the show’s bigger numbers with Mrs. Wilkinson, Michael and Billy’s trio of (mostly) solo dance numbers. The cast is game with Hocking shining as Wilkinson, and Clifford as the free-spirited Michael being the wow factors. Forhan as Billy displays natural acting chops and his dancing is on point. His singing voice, however, isn’t as compelling, although none of the songs themselves are all that memorable anyway. (Note: There are four Billys and two Michaels that take over the two roles on any given night.)
Trimming about 45 minutes from a two-hour-and-forty-minute show would have been the best thing for this production, as the numerous subplots become plodding. There is too much happening that when the show should end, we still have 30 minutes of loose ends to tie up. And when the encore/curtain call dance sequence is better than the ones in the show, that’s a bit of a problem.
Don’t get me wrong, Billy Elliot will make audiences stand up and cheer for the sheer nature of watching a young boy dazzle with his footwork. And there is charm to spare along with ingenious and detailed set design by Edward Pierce and lovely ballet sequences by choreographer Peter Darling. With a few nips and tucks this could be a solid show, but I guess as it has already proven itself to be a success, that is a moot point. —Kevin P. Taft
Hudson Guild Theatre | 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd | Through May 26 | Tickets $30 | plays411.com/mormonboy
Billed as a “world-premiere” production by writer/performer Steven Fales running in rotating rep with his previous two “Mormon boy” solo shows (Confessions of a Mormon Boy and Missionary Position), Prodigal Dad is actually an unfinished work that Fales is currently performing on a bare stage with script in hand, stumbling through his own words in what feels like an unpolished and overwritten early draft. An opening night curtain-call speech acknowledging the fact that the show “isn’t finished” doesn’t change the fact that audience members are asked to pay the same 30 bucks for either of the first two fully realized shows as they are for this meandering, indulgent, two-and-a-half-hour examination of Fales’ messy but unremarkable family-court battle to maintain contact with his two children.
In Dad, Fales refers to his first show, Confessions, as “a hypo-manic cry for help,” but that was the show that put him on the theatrical map, charting with charm and humor his journey from the perfect Mormon boy—who got married and had two kids—to the gay man who eventually came out and subsequently fell down a rabbit-hole of addiction and hustling in a destructive, delayed adolescence.
Dad picks up with a clean and sober Fales trying to make things right with his kids after returning to Utah. The “non-custodial parent” takes his son and daughter on a Christmas ski trip with the financial and moral support of his barely approving physician father, but an impulsive physical response to his son’s teenage petulance inspires ex-wife Emily to use the decidedly mom-friendly family court system to try to block the Mormon boy from seeing his kids again.
In its current form, the show takes detours through the lives of too many quirky relatives, including explorations of Fales’ Greek ancestry that are unfocused and forced. Because he is still unfamiliar with the material himself, it’s not possible for us to detect an arc in the crushing wave of anecdotes. While obviously painful to him, his wife’s legal maneuvers don’t amount to any great injustice, just the ugly machinations of many divorces (especially when the narcissistic father goes AWOL on drug and sex binges in New York).
The boyish Fales is an undeniably appealing stage presence, and in the brief snippets of this show where he breaks into song he displays an emotional connection to the material that is far more genuine and compelling than much of what is spoken. Perhaps a future version with more music would grab our hearts. But, for now, Angelenos can save their money and wait for Prodigal Dad to come back to town when Fales has sharpened his story and learned his lines. —Christopher Cappiello