Dance Triumphs in Wharton Center's Billy Elliot

Billy Elliot
Wharton Center, East Lansing
Jan. 15-20
$32-72; show times at 1, 2, 6:30, 7:30 and 8 p.m., (517) 353-1982

The inspiring story of an unlikely dream steals the stage at Wharton Center with Billy Elliot, winner of 10 Tony Awards. Based on the 2000 film, the show focuses on aspiring ballet dancer Billy, an eleven-year-old diamond in the rough. When Billy's controversial passion becomes entangled in the 1984-1985 miners' strike, the community must come to terms with its prejudices and decide whether they will support Billy's talent.

The show's biggest 'wow' factor is the gorgeously executed choreography, which mixes hip hop, jazz, acrobatics, tap, folk dancing and ballet. Particularly impressive is the tremendous talent demanded by the lead role.

"There are a lot of different styles in the show," said Cullen R. Titmas, who plays Billy's brother, Tony. "The Billys have a huge burden on their shoulders because they have to do tap, ballet and contemporary ... [T]hey have to be able to do it all and act and emote at the same time, while being that young."

An accompanying score by Elton John takes special care not to overshadow the dancers' exquisite movements. While "I Love to Boogie" and "Electricity" provide toe-tapping beats, many of the songs subtly highlight the dancing and enhance the story, rather than standing alone as big Broadway show tunes.

"You don't listen and go, 'Oh, that's Elton John,'" Titmas said. "People love 'Electricity,' but one of the criticisms of the show is that there are no memorable songs. But the show is unique—it uses a lot of traditional miner music that develops the show ... I call it a play with music. The play pops out a lot because the music exemplifies the play and what's going on ... There are also great comedic numbers ... It's a great mix."

In addition to providing spectacular sights and sounds, Billy Elliot also touches upon relevant issues in today's society.

"First of all, the whole bullying theme is very relatable to the story. Everyone thinks [Billy is] a poof—gay—and that's looked down upon as a horrible thing," Titmas said. "That alone, as far as family and community acceptance of a kid, is very poignant to today. As far as economy, the community must come together to support someone in need ... so it's poignant in that respect."

A mesmerizing emotional pull promises to be a powerful feature of the show as well.

"It's not like any other musical. It appeals to many age levels and intellectual levels," Titmas said. "There's a unique realness—a real, dark grittiness of the show and within that a kid following a dream ... What the directors really did well is take you on a roller coaster. They take you to a happy moment and then drop you off a cliff ... There are super great moments throughout that everyone will enjoy."


Other Performing Arts Events

DeVos Performance Hall, Grand Rapids
Jan. 22-27; show times at 1, 2, 6:30, 7:30 and 8 p.m.
$34.50 & up, (616) 235-6285

Based on the Academy Award-winning film, Flashdance sets welder/flashdancer Alex's dream of attending dance school to unforgettably catchy beats and sizzling moves. Armed with fierce perseverance and a resolute spirit, the blue-color Cinderella conquers heartbreak and setbacks, while finding love and discovering her own strength. Featuring hits like "Flashdance—What a Feeling," "Maniac" and "Gloria," as well as 16 new songs by Robbie Roth and Robert Cary, the modern-day fairytale pulses with vibrant energy and heart.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Grand Rapids Civic Theatre
Jan. 18-Feb. 3; show times at 2 and 7:30 p.m.
$16-28, (616) 222-6650

Premiering for the first time in Michigan, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter adapts Carson McCullers' acclaimed novel for the stage to tell the tale of the deaf John Singer, whose best friend has just been committed to an asylum. Four lonely outcasts – a black doctor, a rebellious teen, an alcoholic and a diner-owner – reflect Singer's own isolation as their paths cross in unexpected ways. Together, the characters explore the need for human contact and connection. Compassion and understanding battle against alienation and inner demons in this compelling story set in the 1930s Depression.