The show's young leads
First night: Billy Elliot - the Musical
It's as heartfelt as it is heroic. Our critic Mark Shenton welcomes a vibrant new British musical to the London stage...
Not since Blood Brothers first opened in 1983 has there been a new British musical to combine social commentary with a heartfelt story of adolescence as powerfully and melodically as Billy Elliot.
Adapted for the stage from the hit film of 2000 by its original director Stephen Daldry, screenwriter Lee Hall and choreographer Peter Darling, who are newly joined by composer Elton John, the material has been deepened and given a vibrant immediacy that can only come from the dynamics of live performance.
And the rites-of-passage journey the show charts – of an 11-year-old boy transcending his working class background to gain admittance to the Royal Ballet School – is played out against the background of the 1984 Miners' Strike, implying the fierceness of Billy's own struggle.
Elton John with Stephen Daldry
Much has been made of the search for the young leads. It's a demanding task - not only do child actors quickly grow up, but also the number of performances they can give limits them, too.
Billy Elliot has in fact a rotating team of three young actors, who have to sustain a near three-hour show in which the main character sings, dances and is hardly ever off stage.
Inevitably, therefore, this is only a partial review, since I have seen only one of them: 12-year-old Liam Mower, currently a student at the Royal Ballet School, rather like Billy himself.
And he's an utter revelation, superbly charting the character's journey from the tentative vulnerability of his damaged family life to the liberating confidence that he finds in dance.
An utter revelation: Liam Mower
But there are also tremendous contributions from fellow child actors Ryan Longbottom as his best friend Michael and Lucy Stephenson as Debbie on press night.
And in the adult roles, Haydn Gwynne is a tall, brassy delight as the dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson and Tim Healy movingly charts Billy's father's initial resistance to pride at his son's achievements.
Like Billy's dad, it's impossible not to surrender to the joy of this most physical of the expressive arts; and Peter Darling vibrantly puts it to the test by threading movement throughout the show.
The result? This is quite possibly the greatest modern dance musical since A Chorus Line.
Billy Elliot - the Musical is at the Victoria Palace Theatre, Victoria Street SW1. Tickets: £17.50 - £55 (excl. booking fee). Box office: 0870 895 5577
last updated: 02/05/2008 at 13:35