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  • Rosie Roche

Billy Elliot at Paramount: All the feels and gobsmacking talent - go!

I hadn’t seen this musical before, and, like being wary of a movie adaptation of a favorite novel,

I wondered if it could possibly live up to the 2000 movie that I loved so much. It did.

I grew up in the UK in the 1980s with Thatcher decimating the post-war societal infrastructure

where collective social responsibility had ended the horrific degradation of those with the least.

I am in fact the same age as Billy Elliot - 10/11 during the1984 miners’ strike. And while I lived

in London and did not experience the destruction of the pit villages first hand, it was front and

center to my emerging world view on the abuses of governmental power.

So, Billy Elliot is not just a feel-good story to me. It takes me back to a time of impotent fury

that so many people could embrace Thatcherism’s greed-is-good, and my coming of age into

an unjust world. Yes, it is glorious that Billy transcends the death of his community. But what

about everyone he leaves behind? My teen companion asked this repeatedly on the way

home, ‘So that’s it? He’s gone? Everyone was saying goodbye like they’d never see him again.

Did he escape or is he now alone?’ It’s not a simple story and Elton John’s music makes us

feel this throughout. From pop to ballad, desperation and hope and childhood joy are conjured


First impressions: The huge mining shaft set is imposing and deftly turned into cottage interiors

and social hall. Scenic designer Michelle Lilly creates the dark satanic mill feel of a grim

northern English town and the poverty of those communities. Greg Hoffman’s lighting design

transforms the darkness into scenes of joy with washes of color and artful highlights on

aspects of the set. There are West Side Story-esque moments of running up fire escapes and

dancing along steel catwalks that work very well to show frustration at caged talent and

paucity of ambition. In fact, all the choreography by Isiah Silvia-Chandley brought out the

energies of the story brilliantly.

A moment of deep respect for the accents of the entire cast, and the skills of dialect coach

Susan Gosdick - brilliant! Michelle Aravena as the chain-smoking dance teacher was great, a

strong voice and good comic timing. The stand out performances were, of course, Billy and

Michael, the two ‘different’, dancing boys. Neo Del Corral and Gabriel Lafazan were jaw-

dropingly good. If they were three times their age, in their thirties and performing with such

deftness and subtlety, they would be celebrated as excellent actors. As pre-teens they are

unbelievably accomplished. I would expect a talented kid to be able to dance or sing or act,

but to be such consummate triple threats as children is mind-boggling to me. Del Corral

convinces as the lonely boy missing his dead mother and living in a house, and world,

challenging working class male roles. I could have done without the schmaltzy ghost scenes

with the dead mother, he was good enough to communicate all that loss and lostness with his

physicality. Both boys’ dancing was electrifying. Billy singing about what dance means to him

is an artists’ anthem for the ages. Michael exploring his sexuality and identity with such joy

and candor was wonderful to watch.

Ron E Rains as Dad was the best actor in the show. All his scenes conveyed his confusion and

grief, his struggle to be the right kind of man for his family and friends. The only time I cried

was when Billy hurled himself into Dad’s arms as the miners descended into the pit. So much

had been said, and argued, and shown on stage. This culminating moment gut-punched the

audience with its raw reality of lives changing and staying the same, or belonging and


I was delighted and surprised to love this production of Billy Elliot so much. Go see it.

Playing at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora Illinois through March 24th. For tickets and information go to

  For more reviews go to

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