'Billy Elliot' soars in the Spreckels

Last year, the first London production of “Billy Elliot the Musical” closed following 11 decades of performances.
Now, 11-year-old old San Diego Musical Theater and co-producer California Ballet are currently introducing the bittersweet dance-rich narrative in its San Diego theater premiere at the Spreckels Theatre.

The creation that started Saturday night is a clear marker for San Diego Musical Theatre. With 13 musicians at the pit of conductor/musical director Don LeMaster and 37 performers onstage, it’s a huge undertaking, but the tear-jerker of a show has heart and intimacy.
San Diegans first saw “Billy Elliot” when a national tour of the Broadway generation visited the Civic Theatre at 2013. But having seen that the much-grittier, darker and more political first in London, I discovered that the slick, lighter and more comical U.S. adaptation unsatisfying.

Though some of these elements stay, the SDMT/CalBallet production has more of the dialect, Britishness and darkness of its source material and the London first.
“Billy Elliot” (Celtic-infused score by Elton John, lyrics and book by Lee Hall) relies on Stephen Daldry’s 2000 movie about a young boy from a Northern England coal-mining town who secretly dreams of joining the Royal Ballet. His narrative plays out through England 1984 coal miners’ strike, which preceded the dismantling of the coal industry of the country.
Director Neil Dale and English-born dialect coach Vanessa Dinning have restored much of the story’s Britishness. There is no shying away from the County Durham accent and vernacular, which can be hard to comprehend or the language.
The story is touching and raw, but it’s the dance that soars. Jared Nelson, CalBallet’s associate artistic director, has put his own stamp on the dance numbers, particularly Billy’s “Angry Dance,” when he furiously pirouettes, pops, shouts and hurls himself round the stage following his coal-mining dad will not let him audition for the ballet.

Bringing Billy to life is the gifted Charlie Garton, a Del Mar grade-schooler who began dancing only 3 decades ago. Not only can Garton pull off the rigorous jazz ballet and tap demands of the role, he’s also got a stage presence, charm, a sweet singing voice and a natural flair for acting and dialect.
Among the highlight of the show is his self, beautifully performed by CalBallet soloist Zachary Guthier and a dream ballet between Garton’s youthful Billy. Another is that the full-cast “Solidarity” number, in which Garton and women in tutus dance round and between the rows of striking miners, picketing townspeople along with billy club-toting Language policemen.
Doug Tompos provides a heart-wrenching functionality as Billy’s widowed Dad. Joy Yandell blossoms with wonder as Billy’s gruff dance instructor Mrs. Wilkinson. Luke Monday is fiery as Billy’s older brother Tony. Morgan Carberry comes with reserve and an stillness as the dead Mum of Billy. And Mackernan Jarman is endearing as the gay best friend, Michael of Billy.
There is also some wonderful personality function from Alexandra Gonzalez as the foul-mouthed granny of Billy and Donny Gersonde as an dance studio accompanist.
Some critics have said the point version of “Billy Elliot” lacks the gut-punch potency of the movie, but what this creation does re-create well is that the explosive joy and thrill of watching Billy find and express himself through the medium of dance.
“Billy Elliot the Musical”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; two p.m. Sundays. Through Oct. 8.
Where: San Diego Musical California and Theatre Ballet at the Spreckels Theatre, 121 Broadway
Tickets: $22-$72 (discounts available)
Phone: -LRB-858-RRB- 560-5740
Online: sdmt.org

pam.kragen@sduniontribune.com. Twitter: @pamkragen

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