Thursday, February 3, 2011

Billy Elliott - The Canon Theatre

I warn you now, this review will be hyper critical. I loved the movie and I've been waiting years to see this show. It was sold out when I went to London in 2007. It came to New York and Chicago after I had been. I've been wanting to see this forever! And on Toronto's opening night I got my chance.
Billy, they ask so much of this kid, he has to dance, skip rope, run up the wall, wear a dress, act, sing, put on an accent. Yikes!  I expected him to come out selling ice creams in the intermission. Knowing all that is required, you're basically not going to get that from a 12 year old boy. Tonight we had Cesar Corrales, a Welsh name if I ever heard one. The blind casting notion led this Cuban boy to play the Welsh miners son and gave me some reservations. None of the other roles were blindly cast, everyone else on the cast was pasty white, so why make the exception for Billy?  At the same time if he really was the best fit for the role how can you turn him down?  But what next, Nicole Kidman as Rosa Parks?  But it must be hard for actors with all the white roles, and to always be losing out on the colour of your skin.... It's a conundrum. That being said, if the lights were dim and you squinted this kid could pass for Welsh. Two of the other actors playing the role are Asian. Is there no limits?
Anyway, Cesar was an amazing dancer. After his big dance number I stood and applauded. I have wanted to do that a few times, give a standing ovation in the middle of the show, but no one else ever seems to. Well, this time about 30 people stood up so I knew it was my chance, and I'm glad I did. 
Cesar as Billy.
Dancing - A+
Accent - A (a lot of work went into this, and there were times he sounded exactly like Jamie Bell from the movie)
Singing - B (not much singing was involved, some of the accents he hit a bit too hard while singing)
Acting - C (too much over-dramatics and oversize movements, like he was acting for the balcony)
Overall, the kid did mostly win me over which was amazing as I was sure I would hate anyone but Jamie Bell in the role.
It was nice to see David Light in the ensemble, the last time I saw him was as the lead in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Dillon Stevens steals the show as Billy's fey friend Michael.
An excellent story, four or five very strong songs and some amazing dancing definitely put this show in my top five.


ERinVA said...

Just to let you know, the miners' strike took place in England, not Wales, and the accents in the show are Geordie, which is the accent specific to County Durham in England's Northeast.

As for your comments regarding color-blind casting and Cesar Corrales as Billy, one of the three Tony winning Broadway Billys, David Alvarez, is also a Cuban Canadian, and all productions of the show that I have seen, including London, Broadway, Chicago, and the current tour, have other cast members, including ballet girls, miners, etc., of varying ethnicites. I saw the current Toronto cast in Chicago, and there were certainly other non-white actors in the ensemble, but I don't know what changes were made when the show moved to your fair city.

Does it bother you to see openly gay actors playing straight characters, Neil Patrick Harris, for example? If not, then why worry about color-blind casting?

As Mrs. Wilkinson tells Billy in "Shine," "Come on son, get over it."

dunnadam said...

Thank you for your comments. I did mention the casting was a conundrum, and that I have mixed emotions. There were definitely no other minorities in the Toronto cast, just Billy. I'm not saying Cesar can't win a Tony, and that he can't be great. As I mentioned though, when you take a story so beloved, any changes at all can be difficult for the audience to accept. I would have no problem for example with an Asian or black lead in Wicked, for example, I think it would make me more likely to see the show. In this case the role to me of Billy is iconic and there were good and bad points about minority casting and I wanted to show them both.
It's easier to act against your sexuality than it is to act against your skin colour. And in fact I would rather Neil Patrick Harris play a gay man.
One final question, what about dying the actors hair and putting makeup on him to make him look more white? Or are we encroaching black-face territory there?