Monday, November 29, 2010

Goodbye, Billy--Monday Journal

It was like seeing a friend move away.  You think maybe you will see him again one day, but you know in your heart that you never will.

Yesterday (Sunday), "Billy Elliot", the smash Tony-winning Broadway musical, had its last performance at Chicago's Oriental Theater.  It was an early departure.  It was bittersweet.  It seemed like an invincible show, that might extend its run past the original January end date. 

When I heard in October that the show was ending sooner due to disappointing ticket sales, I knew I needed to experience this breathtaking show once more.  So, this past Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, we attended the matinee among a large and appreciative crowd.

"Billy" still soared.  I liked it even more in my second viewing than the first time, and I raved about it then

According to the Chicago Tribune Theater Critic Chris Jones' article "Hello 'Wicked,' Farewell and Thanks to 'Billy Elliot the Musical' ", the show suffered from a number of external issues and internal challenges.  The weak economy guaranteed that it would not find its audience among a blue-collar crowd that might have embraced it.  Many community groups that often do large bookings and blocs for schools,  found the material (especially the language) too adult for children; and yet the abundance of children in the cast gave those wishing for more serious fare the impression that it was a kid's show.  And the show was expensive, precisely because of the number of children, and their handlers.

And still, according to Jones, "...this Chicago “Billy Elliot” was, on opening night, far superior to the one on Broadway. It introduced discriminating Chicagoans to a group of the most amazing young dancers the city has ever seen. And it was produced and maintained here, with hand and loving care, by a group of international artists for whom quality trumped profitability at every turn. No expense was spared to bring us the best that these artists could manage."

Being in the theater on Friday, I felt like I had entered a world that was very real to me, one that I would gladly visit regularly: Billy's house, with his father, brother and grandmother hamming it up at the kitchen table, and his little bedroom upstairs; the Miner's Association Hall; the boxing gym that doubled nicely as the dancing school; the snowy street on Christmas Eve...

This show affected me like few others have.  I will always remember the intimacy of the duet between Billy and his older self; I felt like I was up on that stage with a mentor who loved me.  I will remember Grandmother's ribald recollection of her late husband as they danced; Billy's mother come back from beyond to tell Billy how proud of him she is; the rousing and masculine choreography of the miners and the police; the joyous humor of the dancing school; the somber plight of the miners on strike, and how well the play incorporates that history while managing to be entertaining, and honestly emotional.

Goodbye, Billy...good luck on your next stop in Toronto!


  1. I wish the show would come to my town! Did I already mention that my friend and I would stop channel-surfing if we saw a commercial for the Broadway show? Something about hearing "the electricity inside" made us surrender. Glad you got to see it twice, and loved it.

  2. Walter, I do hope you can see "Billy" some day. Maybe you should plan a trip to Toronto! I know you have the sensitivity to find it a very special show.