Billy Elliot electrifies WCT

November 2, 2018

1984, Britain. The coal miners strike is in full force, and the turmoil is caught between the change that is so desperately needed, and slipping back into the way things were. The stakes are desperately high, and here we find the Elliot family struggling with their own balance of pride and sacrifice.

 

Oh yeah, and this Billy can dance like Fred Astaire.

 

A large cast fills out the Waukesha Civic stage for the grand numbers of this production, the 2005 stage adaptation of the 2000 film of the same name. Whether it is an entire studio of ballerinas, a lineup of officers, or a mob of protesters, the 36 players send a huge sound throughout the theater. 

Ryan Vanselow with Maggie Wirth (Grandma)

 

In the demanding role of 12-year-old Billy Elliot is eighth grader Ryan Vanselow. Vanselow's portrayal of Billy's growth is transformational - the very boy who began as a tempestuous kid becomes a young man and a key player in his family within the two hours.

 

The character is learning classical ballet, and Vanselow holds his own in that field, but his tapping is the real blow away. Ceci Scalish's choreography leans into his natural talent. His stamina, passion, and vigor in tap is a seamless meld of the Hollywood stars who shaped the genre and the industrial 80s influences in the music. To Billy, dancing feels like electricity. For the audience, watching Vanselow is electrifying.

 

Liam Thomas and Ryan Vanselow

 

Vanselow really blooms into this role during the Act I showstopper, "Expressing Yourself". Liam Thomas plays Billy's best friend Michael, and the pair not only displays the bright futures for their characters, but that they have equally bright futures in the spotlight themselves.

 

Chris Meissner's lighting is practically a character of its' own. From the poverty slowly descending upon the coal miners, to the glamour of joyful dancing in a closet, Meissner brings a certain sharpness to the stage. There is enough to create the setting, and then Meissner takes it one step farther. Side lighting is reminiscent of a professional dance company. Crisp focus strikes across the brute police and divides the populace in half. With numerous designs on the Civic stage under his belt, this may be some of Meissner's best work.

 

Ryan Vanselow and the Ballerina Girls

 

Director Mark E. Schuster has never shied away from putting Broadway scale pieces on a Civic scale space. A year ago, he brought the ambitious Hunchback of Notre Dame to the boards. Yet again, Schuster has proven to be the man for the job. Billy Elliot is a riot (and, of course, a strike). This warm story set to a driving score is tearing down the house through November 11th.

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