Brief thoughts on Chicago’s “Billy Elliot”

Just a quick note to say that I had a wonderful time this evening, attending a performance of Broadway in Chicago’s production of “Billy Elliot” (as Bob’s plus-one, of course) as well attending a post-show blogger bash put on by the press agency that represents the show.

Somehow, despite loving musicals as I do, catching “Billy Elliot” during it’s Chicago run hadn’t been a priority of mine.  I mean, I read the press that declared it the best musical of the decade, but something in me still said “meh.”

It’s a good show, really. It’s not perfect (there’s a lot of plot lines happening at the same time, and the first couple scenes are a whirlwind of plot points delivered in sometimes undecipherable accents) but it’s very moving, incredibly well-produced, and performed by a cast that lays their hearts and souls on the line.

Multiple gifted young performers rotate in the title role.  This evening, we were fortunate to see young J.P Viernes as Billy Elliot.  For such a young performer, this kid delivered, never missing a beat and dancing like a dream. Seeing someone so young play such a massive role so well made me feel remarkably old and unaccomplished.  Viernes receives lovely support from the rest of the cast, most notably Dillon Stevens as his best friend Michael, who tore down the house with his big number.  As Billy’s Dad, Armand Schultz gives a touching and believable performance, as does Cynthia Darlow as Billy’s Grandmother. (After her big number, I turned to Bob and said “More Grandma, please.”)

But perhaps my favorite two performances of the evening were delivered by Patrick Mulvey and Emily Skinner. I’ll get to La Skinner in a moment, as she’s a performer I’ve revered for years, but I must say that Mulvey (in the sort of thankless role of Billy’s angry brother) manages to carve likability where there isn’t a whole lot to be found.  The role involves a lot of angst and yelling, but it doesn’t ever feel overdone, and that’s saying something.

But really, the show is about one person.

Dear Chicago – Emily Skinner owns you.

Ever since I first heard the original Broadway cast recording of Side Show, La Skinner has been on my radar. I’ve followed her career through the live concerts she’s given with her Side Show co-star (and Tony award winner) Alice Ripley, to the concert production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, to the “will she or won’t she” rumors surrounding the possibility of her taking on the role of Ursula in the Broadway Little Mermaid.  I knew she could sing her face off.  However, I never expected her to be as great an actress as she is.  As Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy’s gruff but golden-hearted dance instructor, Emily Skinner is a revelation. I adored her.  I wanted to take dance classes with her. Seriously, she’s grand.  She’s leaving the Chicago company soon to take over the role on Broadway, and I’m saying it now – see her do the show before she leaves.  You won’t regret it.

It was a good, solid show and I’m glad I got to see it before the Chicago run ends.

The Blogger Bash post-show was held at The Wit hotel, and was a soiree bringing together press and bloggers and other people post-show to meet some of the actors, have some drinks, and chat.  Have to say – The Wit hotel sort of put me off, as it screams hyper-trendy,  but thanks to Bob and some of his blogger friends I had a really great time. (Katie Walsh, I’m talking about you and the lovely Steve.)  In addition, we got to briefly meet three of the cast members – Billy himself (JP Viernes), Patrick Mulvey, and ensemble member Abby Church.  They were all lovely and engaging and it was nice to chat and take photos with them.

(During a moment where I got to chat with JP Viernes, I asked him if he was tired after doing such a big show.  His response – classic – was no, but that he would like a really big cookie. Spectactular, as well as a sentiment I totally agreed with.)

I had a great night – and I’m so glad I finally saw “Billy Elliot.” I can’t say the show changed my life, but you know… not everything does.

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2 responses to “Brief thoughts on Chicago’s “Billy Elliot”

  1. Pingback: Revisiting ‘Billy Elliot’ at the Ford Center/Oriental Theatre « Chicago Theatre Addict

  2. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if Ripley came in with “Next to Normal” while Skinner was in “Billy Elliot” (ew, that sounds gross)? Impromptu “Side Show” reunion!

    (I almost typed “Shide Show” reunion. What am I? Liza Minnelli?)

    I couldn’t have asked for a better date last night. You’re fun to see things with, Jamie Prahl!

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