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Billy Elliot

Billy Elliot is a glorious example of how theater can tell a story

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I might be the wrong person to review Billy Elliot: The Musical, brought to town by PNC Broadway Across America, since I spent most of it sobbing into my coat.

The show is based on the 2000 (non-musical) movie taking place in England, in 1982, when Thatcher was breaking the miners' union. Billy is a young boy blessed with an extraordinary talent for dance ... a gift of no apparent use in an economically devastated town or an emotionally ravaged family. (Billy's mom has recently died.)

The film was directed by Stephen Daldry, from a screenplay by Lee Hall and choreographed by Peter Darling. When the musical version opened, in 2005, all three repeated their duties — with the little addition of an original score written by Elton John.

My sobbing was not merely a reaction to Hall's intimate and deeply moving story of a kid finding a path to his future; I was also crying because Billy Elliot is a glorious example of how theater can tell a story.

Before making the movie, Daldry, Hall and Darling were highly regarded theater professionals; that they've turned the movie into such a uniquely theatrical event shouldn't be a surprise. Darling's choreography, especially, is an astonishing achievement: The movement in the show is as powerful as the book and the score. And Daldry gets the credit for fusing everything into a single impulse to move the audience from start to finish through the world of the story. Everything before us — sets, lights, costumes, music, dialogue and dance — functions as an impeccably solid whole.

Due to its performance demands, the role of Billy is triple-cast. On the night I was there, Ty Forhan proved to be an emotional explosion onstage: On more than one occasion, he literally stopped the show. Leah Hocking, as Mrs. Wilkinson, never condescends in the role of Billy's hard-bitten teacher, making her that much more moving. Rich Hebert perfectly plays the anguish of Billy's father being torn apart by such conflicting emotions, while Cynthia Darlow, as Grandma, and Cullen R. Titmas, as Billy's brother, contribute mightily to this roundhouse punch of a show.

Take Kleenex.

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