Sean Hayden

Billy Idol: Goodspeed Launches Billy Elliot Run

Review of Billy Elliot, Goodspeed Musicals

The London original of the long-running success Billy Elliot, the Musical closed in 2016, having opened 11 years previous. The show clearly has audience appeal, based largely on the prospect of seeing youngsters dance in a variety of styles, including ballet and tap and boogie. It’s a show that celebrates the urge to self-expression that can lead to a life chasing the footlights, reminding audiences how uplifting—even to onlookers—the discovery of talent can be.

The film directed by Stephen Daldrey, from Lee Hall’s script, from which the musical derives, arrived in 2000 and looked back at the hard-fought and losing struggle by the UK’s National Union of Miners to prevent mine-closings in their doomed industry by staging a massive strike in 1985-86. The effort, which occasioned considerable sacrifice and conflict among the miners, was defeated by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in what became an important victory in the ongoing privatization that dismantled the so-called Welfare State. Billy Elliot, The Musical gives Sir Elton John, Music, the opportunity to fashion a working-class-hero vehicle with Lee Hall’s Book and Lyrics. Certainly one of the effects of the musical is that it’s given thousands of child actors opportunity to take to the stage in dance roles that are both demanding and rewarding.

Billy Elliot (Liam Vincent Hutt) with the cast of Goodspeed Musicals’  Billy Elliot The Musical , now playing at The Goodspeed through November 24. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

Billy Elliot (Liam Vincent Hutt) with the cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ Billy Elliot The Musical, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 24. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

At Goodspeed in East Haddam, directed by Gabriel Barre, with choreography by Marc Kimmelman and musical direction by Michael O’Flaherty, Billy Elliot, the Musical makes the most of its talented young cast, and the many opportunities for the adult cast to move in the aisles, sometimes as riot police opposing strikers, give the show a rowdy energy. Which helps because the songs don’t exactly stick in one’s mind and the show’s dramatic arc feels like something you’ve already seen, even if you missed the Oscar-nominated film. And yet there are pleasures to be found.

Mrs. Wilkinson (Michelle Aravena), Billy Elliot (Liam Vincent Hutt) with the cast of Goodspeed Musicals’  Billy Elliot The Musical . Photo by Diane Sobolewski

Mrs. Wilkinson (Michelle Aravena), Billy Elliot (Liam Vincent Hutt) with the cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ Billy Elliot The Musical. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

A young lad in a mining family minus recently deceased Mum, Billy (Liam Vincent Hutt or Taven Blanke), discovers a talent for ballet he didn’t know he had, encouraged by Mrs. Wilkinson (Michelle Aravena), a wonderfully committed teacher who sees in him a vicarious satisfaction of her own defeated dreams; working-class family struggling (even more than usual because they’re on strike) is not sympathetic to the boy’s means of self-expression, or probably artistic expression in general (Billy takes up dance lessons when he’s supposed to be going to boxing lessons). The subtext is that any boy who wants to dance rather than box must be gay—greatly not ok with this lot. But he’s not—ostensibly. Billy does have a friend, Michael (Jon Martens), complete with Elton John glasses, who fancies him, as does Mrs. Wilkinson’s daughter, Debbie (Erica Parks). Eventually there’s a row when Mrs. W. visits Billy’s home to take the boy to an audition at the Royal Dance Academy and the cat is out of the bag, about ballet. In the second act, after a Christmas pageant in which the miners and their families mock Thatcher in effigy, a touching moment between Dad (Sean Hayden) and son precedes a moment when Dad views Billy in the full flight of dance. Dad eats crow and visits Mrs. W. and even, after the strapped miners all chip in to pay for the trip, accompanies Billy to the audition. But will the boy’s dream come true? By that point, he’s not a weird outsider to his native community but rather a symbol of its hopes. It’s the kind of story a rock star might identify with, as Billy aspires to leave one field of exploited labor (mining) for another (theater). So it goes.

Michael (Jon Martens) and Billy (Liam Vincent Hutt) in Goodspeed Musicals’  Billy Elliot The Musical.  Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

Michael (Jon Martens) and Billy (Liam Vincent Hutt) in Goodspeed Musicals’ Billy Elliot The Musical. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

Onstage, there’s the somewhat interesting juxtaposition of flashes of glam aesthetic (mostly via Michael, and Jon Martens is a wonderfully engaging young show-person) against a nicely done “angry young man” kitchen-sink set. The best stuff comes mostly in Act 1: “Shine” may be a song with utterly banal lyrics, but it’s fun to see a troupe of game girls (Erica Parks, Margot Anderson-Song, Amy Button, Tess Santarsiero, Camiel Warren-Taylor) practice ballet only to be shown up by Billy; “Grandma’s Song,” very engagingly sung by Barbara Marineau as Billy’s slightly dotty grandma, recalling her days of drinking and dancing as breaks from domestic abuse (the song inspires hopes for more such bits of characterization to come, but they mostly don’t); “Expressing Yourself” led by Michael (whose story might be rather more interesting than Billy’s) with flashy dress-up; “Solidarity” which gets the cops and the miners into it while the ballet girls and Billy are trying to make art in the midst of chaos; finally, Billy’s “Angry Dance,” which shows him expressing himself, indeed, after getting squelched by his dad.

Grandma (Barbara Marineau) reminisces with Billy (Liam Vincent Hutt) in Goodspeed Musicals’  Billy Elliot The Musical . Photo by Diane Sobolewsk

Grandma (Barbara Marineau) reminisces with Billy (Liam Vincent Hutt) in Goodspeed Musicals’ Billy Elliot The Musical. Photo by Diane Sobolewsk

The best bits in Act 2: Sean Hayden’s rendering of “Deep into the Ground,” which becomes an elegy for his dead wife; “Dream Ballet” in which Billy and his older self (Nick Silverio) do a very graceful pas de deux to “Swan Lake,” and Billy’s “Electricity” in which he tries to explain how he feels when he dances. The lyrics, again, are rather bland, but Liam Vincent Hutt does convince us that Billy has transcendent talent. The fearsome puppet of Thatcher at the Act’s opening didn’t seem to spark much mirth the night I saw the show, perhaps because even more vile politicians swarm upon us today, and yet it’s nice to know that the show’s denigration of “the Iron Lady” continues unabated.

“Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher!” The cast of Goodspeed Musicals’  Billy Elliot The Musical . Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

“Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher!” The cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ Billy Elliot The Musical. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

The emotional core of the show, though, isn’t so much the us vs. them of the miners trying to unite—either in striking or in backing Billy—or even in Billy finding himself as a talent, but rather in Dad seeing that his son has something special and taking that as a badge of pride rather than as an affront. To make sure that aspect of the show is as weepy as possible, there’s Dead Mum (Rachel Rhodes-Devey) on hand to provide loving, albeit ghostly, support, with a letter to her son upon his eighteenth birthday that Billy has read prematurely and takes as his own badge of emotional security.

There’s a certain earnestness about the value of childhood dreams, talent, and the belief of those who sacrifice for another’s success that, I suspect, makes Billy Elliot, the Musical an all-ages favorite (despite the authentic profanity of the setting). And yet it’s also—because of the context of Billy’s one-among-thousands selection—a bit of a shrug-off to all those who worked for something other than simply launching a ballet idol. As Tony (Gabriel Sidney Brown), Billy’s self-righteously indignant and somewhat bullying older brother, says, “we can’t all be dancers.” But if just one of “us” is, well, I guess that means it hasn’t all been a bloody waste.

The cast of Goodspeed Musicals’  Billy Elliot The Musical , now playing at The Goodspeed through November 24. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

The cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ Billy Elliot The Musical, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 24. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.


Billy Elliot, The Musical
Book and Lyrics by Lee Hall
Music by Elton John
Directed by Gabriel Barre
Musical Direction by Michael O’Flaherty
Choreographed by Marc Kimelman

Scenic Design: Walt Spangler; Costume Design: Jen Caprio; Lighting Design: Jason Kantrowitz; Sound Design: Jay Hilton; Hair & Wig Design: Mark Adam Rampmeyer; Fight Direction: Unkledave’s Fight-House; Dialect Coach: Jennifer Scapetis-Tycer: Assistant Music Director: William J. Thomas; Orchestrations: Dan DeLange; Production Manager: Erica Gilroy; Production Stage Manager: Bradley G. Spachman; General Manager: Rachel J. Tischler; Producer: Donna Lynn Cooper Hilton

Cast: Margot Anderson-Song, Michelle Aravena, Taven Blanke, Gabriel Sidney Brown, Amy Button, Billy Cohen, Richard Costa, Erik Gratton, Sean Hayden, Julia Louise Hosack, Liam Vincent Hutt, Emily Larger, Gerard Lanzerotti, Samantha Littleford, Barbara Marineau, Jon Martens, Connor McRory, Erica Parks, Simon Pearl, Rachel Rhodes-Devey, William Daniel Russell, Tess Santarsiero, Nick Silverio, Bryon St. Cyr, Jesse Swimm, Camiel Warren-Taylor

Musicians: Keyboard 1: William J. Thomas; Keyboard 2: David Kidwell; Trumpet: Pete Roe; Trombone: Matthew Russo; Reed 1: Liz Baker Smith; Reed 2: Mickey Shuster; Guitar: Nick DiFabio; Percussion: Sal Ranniello

Alternates: Keyboard 2: Anthony Pandolfe, Sarah Iadarola; Trumpet: Seth Bailey; Trombone: Andrew Janes, George Sanders; Reed 1: Mickey Schuster, Andrew Studenski; Reed 2: Harrison Kliewe; Percussion: Dave Edricks

Goodspeed
September 13-November 24, 2019

Seek Hyde

Review of Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical, Music Theatre of Connecticut

MTC opens its 32nd season with a real winner. ‘Tis the season to get scary and this production of Jekyll & Hyde fits right in, a dramatic adaptation of the hoary Robert Louis Stevenson classic about a man of science who experiments on himself and releases the demon within. As adapted to musical theater by Leslie Bricusse (Book and Lyrics) and Frank Wildhorn (music) and conceived for the stage by Wildhorn and Steven Cuden, Jekyll & Hyde isn’t a toe-tapper so much as a riveting foray into the darkness we may each harbor, in one form or another.

Andrew Foote (Hyde), Elissa DeMaria (Lucy Harris) in the Music Theatre of Connecticut production of Jekyll & Hyde

Andrew Foote (Hyde), Elissa DeMaria (Lucy Harris) in the Music Theatre of Connecticut production of Jekyll & Hyde

As a popular show that was first staged in the 1990s, it’s likely that audiences have had a chance to see Jekyll & Hyde by now. Whether you have or not, be sure to take it in at the intimate space of MTC. Here, you’re thrust into the heart of the action as this very talented and intense cast delivers this show with a power that could easily fill a much larger theater. Director Kevin Connors has assembled a great troupe to put this tale through its paces and everyone is splendid.

The set is simplicity itself, a long riser stretching into shadowy offstage areas, with a crackerjack band led by David Wolfson behind an arras. Nothing distracts from the action, which is abetted by Diane Vanderkroef’s costumes—jackets, vests, flounces, bustles, hats, hair, whiskers, it’s all well realized. The mic sets can be obtrusive, here and there, but Will Atkins’ sound design is sharp and clear, and all the voices—whether commanding majestic arias or remarking sotto voce—are compellingly present.

foreground: Emma Carew (Carissa Massaro), Gabriel John Utterson (Sean Hayden), and the cast of Jekyll & Hyde

foreground: Emma Carew (Carissa Massaro), Gabriel John Utterson (Sean Hayden), and the cast of Jekyll & Hyde

Despite the fact that our hero is also our villain and gets to own the stage, this is very much an ensemble piece in the sense that all the attendant figures help create this tale of a man at odds with his society, trying to prove something he believes will be of benefit to mankind but managing to ruin himself and nearly everyone else in the process. And, without getting too morbid, it might be fun to imagine some choice hypocritical leaders of our day falling into the hands of the ruthless Mr. Hyde, the way the board of governors does here. The song “Façade” felt only too relevant last week.

Henry Jekyll (Andrew Foote)

Henry Jekyll (Andrew Foote)

In Henry Jekyll (Andrew Foote) we see a driven man, trying to convince a board of naysayers—Lady Beaconsfield (Kirsti Carnahan), Sir Archibald Proops (Peter McClung), the Bishop of Basingstoke (Lou Ursone), General Lord Glossop (Bill Nabel), and Sir Danvers Carew (Donald E. Birely—a welcome return), father of Jekyll’s betrothed—that he has developed a serum that will isolate the two aspects of humanity, the good and the evil. Rightfully skeptical, the board also fear what will become of the evil part, once isolated. Good question!

In fact, after Jekyll proceeds to experiment with himself as guinea pig, the evil part runs amok in the form of Edward Hyde, a more hirsute version of Jekyll with none of the latter’s kindness. We see Jekyll’s kindness when he, alone among those of his social class, takes pity on a prostitute named Lucy Harris (Elissa DeMaria). To her, he becomes a hero, and to his fiancée, Emma Carew (Carissa Massaro), he is a man without peer, even if he does seem to be treading into deep waters. Elissa DeMaria and Carissa Massaro have done much fine work in a variety of shows at MTC and it’s a treat to see them together here perform the affecting duet about their shared object, “In His Eyes.” Massaro’s Emma is a paragon of the Victorian virtues, a seemingly flawless Angel in the House, while DeMaria’s Lucy is both frisky—“Bring on the Men”—and increasingly vulnerable, “Sympathy, Tenderness.” As with the two sides of the hero, the two main female characters gesture at a dichotomy that our social norms never quite seem to bridge.

Lucy Harris (Elissa DeMaria)

Lucy Harris (Elissa DeMaria)

Having to be both good and evil, alternately, falls to Andrew Foote’s very vulnerable—if somewhat overbearing—Jekyll and his monstrously vicious Hyde. Flinging a lengthy hairpiece over his visage for the latter and snarling, Foote’s performance is all the more fascinating for taking place so close to the audience. His singing voice is electrifying, and his energy as an actor is both scary and inspiring.

Edward Hyde (Andrew Foote)

Edward Hyde (Andrew Foote)

And that’s the word, I’d use for the entire cast and production—inspiring. And that includes notable support by Sean Hayden as Gabriel John Utterson (Horatio to Jekyll’s Hamlet), Jeff Gurner, in a trio of roles, all impeccable, Christian Cardozo as a fussy Simon Stride, and Alexandra Imbrosci-Viera and Carolyn Savoia shape-shifting between courtesans and denizens of St. James.

In Kevin Connors’ capable hands, MTC’s Jekyll & Hyde shows what a small, regional theater can do when it sinks its teeth into a show it is able to realize fully. In its humble surroundings, this show bests some bigger houses we could name. This is a Jekyll & Hyde worth seeking.

 

Jekyll & Hyde, The Musical
Book and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
Music by Frank Wildhorn
Conceived for the stage by Steve Duden & Frank Wildhorn
Orchestrations by Kim Scharnberg
Arrangements by Jason Howland

Directed by Kevin Connors
Musical Direction by David Wolfson

Scenic Design: Michael Blagys and Kelly Burr Nelsen; Lighting Design: Michael Blagys; Technical Direction: Kelly Burr Nelsen; Costume Design: Diane Vanderkroef; Sound Design: Will Atkin; Fight Choreography: Dan O’Driscoll; Stage Manager: Jim Schilling

Cast: Donald E. Birely; Christian Cardozo; Kirsti Carnahan; Elissa DeMaria; Andrew Foote; Jeff Gurner; Sean Hayden; Alexandra Imbrosci-Viera; Carissa Massaro; Peter McClung; Bill Nabel; Carolyn Savoia; Lou Ursone

Music Theatre of Connecticut
September 28-October 14, 2018