By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor
“Billy Elliot the Musical,” performed by West Potomac High School’s Beyond the Page Theatre Company, is an ostensibly sad tale which features a motherless young boy who trades boxing gloves for ballet shoes in his working class UK town during the devastating miners’ strike of 1984-85. However, I think you will leave this show feeling uplifted and hopeful because this amazing group of high schoolers and a few younger students make it so through skillful acting, dancing, and singing. Some of the younger cast members include particularly engaging student actors like the marvelously talented Franco Cabanas as Billy; Grant Hamilton as Billy’s best friend, Michael, who has a peculiar quirk; Charlie Ruppe as a well-acted Tall Boy; and adorable Micah Griffin as Small Boy. They demonstrate the hard work they were willing to do to help mount a complicated musical featuring almost nonstop singing and dancing—and they are not even in high school. Wait until you see the older actors, who ARE in high school—unbelievable. This show seemed to me every bit as good as and certainly more fun than the show I saw on Broadway a few years back. But don’t take my word for this—go to see it and thank me later!
All of the cast members deserve special mention, but space allows me to point out only a few—Jonathan Barger as Dad, is strong and engaging in his difficult role, Adrianna DeLorenzo as Mrs. Wilkinson, is inspirational, caring, and unrelenting, and Frankie Mananzan is adorably addled as Grandma, whose singing and acting is assured and lovely. Kat Amato as Dead Mum is exactly right for that role—still and mature way beyond her actual years. Also, dancer Natalie Edwards as Mrs. Wilkinson’s spoiled child, was in the national tour of the show and is one of the choreographers for this show. I know, I know, this sounds positively deadly, but Elton John composed the music, and Lee Hall wrote the book and lyrics, which were adapted from his 2000 movie screenplay of the same name. These two know how to take you from deep depression to joy in a few perfectly crafted measures and when the music is set to dance, well, it’s intoxicating. Throughout the show you feel the tug of war Billy faces daily from so called friends and his actual family trying keep him in this dead-end of a town. Although it’s visibly difficult, Billy faces down his fears and the bullies, and instead of breaking him, those situations make him stronger–and his dancing more intense. When Billy begins to prepare for his audition at the Ballet School in London, his choreography is angry, strong, and simply inspired!
An aside: throughout the past summer the choreographic team of Peelee Clark, Natalie Edwards, and Gennifer Defilippo trained Cabanas and Hamilton in ballet for this show and in September they offered special classes to teach the entire cast tap and ballet. It worked. Additionally, their dialect coach, the brilliant Mark Lee Adams, helped make the show even more authentic by working with each cast member to sound like they had originally come from the fictional Everington Village in County Durham, Northern England. He told me that he suggested some broad pronunciations and exercises to apply those principles, and the actors then went to work figuring out individual accents for their characters. Following the show, some of the actors showed me how they learned their accents with Mr. Adams’ help. Not easy.
There are close to 50 students in the cast and ensemble and 20 students in the pit. Unbelievably, every crew position (including some surprise positions) is accomplished amazingly well by the students themselves. Following the opening night show, I spoke with Director/Assistant Choreographer Peelee Clark while students were sweeping up the items thrown into the audience from the stage, and Peelee told me that the students do EVERYTHING. They do all the painting, all the props, (which, by the way, are incredibly extensive and designed by a team of students and overseen by a student), all the costumes, which are appropriate to the time period and very handsome, and, when I was looking for a press release a month or so prior to opening night, I was directed to a student, who sent that to me with a nice note.
This is NOT your mother’s high school play. Trust me. Get your tickets now.
Performance, Time, Place, Ticket, and Show Information:
Dates and Times: Thursday May 4 at 5 pm; Friday May 5 at 7 pm; Saturday May 6 at 2 pm and 7 pm. Location: West Potomac High School, Springbank Auditorium, 6500 Quander Road, Alexandria, VA 22307. Ticket info: Tickets and assigned seating for all shows are $12 for students and $15 for adults and are available online until two hours before each performance. Any remaining seats, as well as general admission seating, will be available at the door one hour before performances. Tickets are available at www.westpotomactheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one 20-minute intermission.