‘Great Performances: Billy Elliot the Musical Live’ is a dancer must-see

The popular 2000 film “Billy Elliot” which starred Jamie Bell was made into an award-winning stage presentation: “Billy Elliot the Musical.” Hitting London’s West End in 2005 and going on to Broadway in 2009, the musical won a 2009 Tony for Best Musical. Featuring a performance by cheeky performance by Elliott Hanna, this “Great Performances: Billy Elliot the Musical Live” telecast on PBS (Friday, Oct. 23 at 9 p.m.)  also features a reunion of sorts–25 current and former Billy Elliots dance a rousing finale, showing just how many boys can and love dancing.

Lee Hall who wrote the original story and screenplay, adapted the 2000 film into a musical with Elton John providing the music. The story is about an 11-year-old boy, Billy Elliot (Hanna), whose miner father, Jackie (Deka Walmsley) wants him to learn the manly sport of boxing, but finds that he’d rather stick around after the boxing class and take the ballet class, even though he is the only boy in the crowd of tutus.

The ballet teacher (Ruthie Henshall) sees something in Billy and encourages him to audition for the Royal Ballet, but his father forces Billy to quit ballet. In this small mining town, there’s a stark devision between what men can and should do. Ballet is something looked down upon as something for “poofs” and this isn’t exactly a gay-friendly town, but this is the 1980s–taking place mostly during the 1984-1985 Great Britain Miners’ Strike. Billy isn’t the only misfit; he finds friendship with another boy his age, Michael (Zach Atkinson). Michael experiments with cross-dressing in one of the big dance numbers of the musical (“Expressing Yourself”).

Billy continues in secret but is prevented from attending the local audition because of the miners’ strike.  His teacher confronts his father. Eventually, Jackie will decide to support Billy and want something better than the mines for his son.

Song performance program:

• “The Stars Look Down” – Company
• “Shine” – Ballet Girls, Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy & Mr. Braithwaite
• “Grandma’s Song” – Grandma
• “Solidarity” – Ballet Girls, Billy, Mrs. Wilkinson, Miners & Police
• “Expressing Yourself” – Billy, Michael, and Ensemble
• “The Letter” – Mrs. Wilkinson, Mum and Billy
• “Born to Boogie” – Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy, and Mr. Braithwaite
• “Angry Dance” – Billy & Male Ensemble
• “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher” – Tony and Partiers
• “Deep Into the Ground” – Dad
• “Swan Lake” – Billy and Billy Older Self
• “He Could Be a Star” – Dad and Tony
• “Electricity” – Billy
• “Once We Were Kings” – Company
• “The Letter – Reprise” – Mum and Billy
• Finale – Company

Some audience members might have to review just who Margaret Thatcher was, but that’s really a minor miner point. Compared to the original movie, this musical is goofier and less gritty. If the musical is inspiring in an ordinary production, then this one is that times 25. We get to see Hanna behind the scenes and hear comments about what made him the right choice and his growth through being part of the musical from the the director and choreographer. Liam Mower, the first boy to ever play the role on stage in 2005, returns to the show in the role of the older Billy. After the end of the musical itself, many former and current Billy Elliots on stage and dancing. Some people are meant to dance. Some of those people are men and seeing these men dance is a powerful statement.  “Billy Elliot the Musical Live” is a PBS “Great Performances” presentation in London by Universal Stage Productions, Working Title Films and Old Vic Productions in association with Tiger Aspect and is based on the Universal Pictures/ Studio Canal film. It is part of the PBS Arts Fall Festival.

“Billy Elliot the Musical Live” will be broadcast on PBS Friday, Oct. 23, at 9 p.m. It will be available as video on demand thereafter on the PBS website.


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