BILLY ELLIOT at Drury Lane Theatre, Review – Chicagoland Opening Dazzles With Stunning Storytelling, Singing, Dancing

The international smash-hit musical BILLY ELLIOT has exploded onto stage at the magnificent Drury Lane Theatre with a roiling magnitude leaving everyone in its wake fully aware that they’ve just experienced theatre at its very best.  The powerful acting, skillful singing, and outstanding dancing swept along the audience in an emotional ride of mostly highs, but also the lows of surreptitiously swiping away tears in the dark.

The full cast of Billy Elliott

Drury’s BILLY ELLIOT appeals to the senses on every level, with powerful storytelling that makes us all take a harder look at what dreams we’ve lived out, rationalized away or left behind.  The show navigates the territory that falls between “what is,” and “what if” and “what could be,” – making BILLY ELLIOT a powerful vehicle to contemplate the role that family, community and society play in life’s path.

One of the most celebrated musicals on stage today, BILLY ELLIOT has been tearing up London’s West End for a decade, with the production winning 10 Tony Awards and featuring a soul-stirring score by Elton John.  Based on the hit book by the same name, Lee Hall wrote the screenplay for the Academy Award-nominated film that inspired the musical.

Nicholas Dantes as Billy, Michael Harp as Michael

The heartwarming show is about a motherless boy in a small, poverty-stricken mining town who trades his boxing gloves for ballet shoes and fights against social pressure and stereotypes to achieve his dream of becoming a dancer. His talent and ambition become symbols of hope for a town that's enduring more than its fair share of hardship. 

The historical backdrop to the show tracks the infamous miners’ strike in Northern England in the 1980s as 200,000 families held their ground for more than a year at great personal cost in an attempt to live their convictions and preserve the only way of life they knew.

Workers from the cast of Billy Elloitt

At the Drury Lane, BILLY ELLIOT is directed by multiple Jeff Award-winner Rachel Rockwell (RagtimeWest Side Story, at Drury Lane Theatre, Brigadoon at The Goodman Theatre), with Musical Direction by Jeff Award-winner Roberta Duchak (Les Miserables and Sweeney Todd at Drury Lane Theatre, vocal coach for Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman for the Academy Award-winning film Les Miserables).

“BILLY ELLIOT is an incredibly emotional journey of a struggling community, a shifting country and, most importantly, a father and son relationship and my role is to tell this story in the most truthful way possible,” says Director Rachel Rockwell

The title role of “Billy” is played by two exceptional Chicago natives, Nicholas Dantes and Kyle Halford, who were cast in a months-long audition process.  Their range of dazzling talents includes not only singing and acting, but alsoballet, acrobatics, aerial scenes, and tap

Kyle Halford as Billy, Ron E. Raines as Dad

“We asked ourselves: are Billy Elliot’s found or made?” says Artistic Director William Osetek. “The search required a young actor who brought incredible raw talent, but needed to be cultivated to stand up to the impossible task of performing the role of a young boy whose dance ability leaves one breathless.”  

Nicholas Dantes as Billy, Maureen Gallagher as Grandma

Also starring is Jeff Award-winner Susie McMonagle as “Mrs. Wilksinson” (Broadway: Les Miserables at the Imperial Theatre, National Tours: Billy Elliot andMamma Mia! and Next to Normal at Drury Lane), Ron E. Rains as “Dad” (BIG, The Musical and 1776 at Drury Lane, Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol), Maureen Gallagher as “Grandma” (Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, The Goodman Theatre), and Liam Quealy as “Tony” (My Fair Lady at Paramount Theatre, Pirates of Penzance at Marriott Theatre). The cast also features Michael Harp as “Michael” (The Sound of Music at Lyric Opera, Chicago, Billy Elliot in St. Louis), Brooke MacDougal (Member of The Performer’s School ensemble, professional debut) and Peyton Schaffer (Les Miserables and Seussical at Drury Lane,as “Debbie Wilkinson,” Terry Hamilton as “George” (Airline Highway at Steppenwolf Theatre), Brianna Borger as “Mum” (The King and I and Into The Woods at Porchlight Theater), Rhett Gutter as “Older Billy” (West Side Story at Drury Lane, Brigadoon at The Goodman Theatre) and Bret Tuomi as “Mr. Braithwaite”(West Side Story at Drury Lane, A Christmas Carol at The Goodman Theatre).

Nicholas Dantes as Billy, Ron E. Rains as Dad

Rounding out the cast are William Carlos Angulo, Julia Baker, Cody Bolithon, Johnson Brock, Grier Burke,
 Gary Carlson, Michael Di Leo, Abigail Dudich, Samantha Erne, Allison Graves,
Sage Harper, Hannah Clare Horner, Raymond Interior, Amelia Grace Kuhlman, Princess Isis Z. Lang, Emily Leahy, Iris Lieberman, Ingrid Clare Lowery, Katie Malchow, Mia Moore,
Ava Morse, Ashton Schaffer, Peter Scharbrough, Steven Spanapoulos, Brandon Springman, Holly Stauder, Zachary Uzarraga, Jonathan Weir, and Fred Zimmerman.

Rhett Guter as Older Billy and Nicholas Dantes as Billy

BILLY ELLIOT is recommended for ages 13 and older due to explicit language and fight scenes.  With a run time 2.5 hours, the show goes through June 7 at the Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace.  Tickets are $45-$60 and less for seniors and students groups. Purchase here or at TicketMaster at 800.745.3000.

Performances are Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. ($45), Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. ($45) and 8 p.m. ($55), Fridays at 8 p.m. ($60), Saturdays at 5 p.m. ($60), and 8:30 p.m. ($60), and Sundays at 2 p.m. ($60), and 6 p.m. ($55).

Susie McMonagle as Mrs. Wilkinson

Photos credit of Brett Beiner

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