Bob Harbin’s Bobdirex theater company presents the local premiere of “Billy Elliot: The Musical” weekends through July 10 at the Marian University Theater (former location of the Indianapolis Civic), 3200 Cold Spring Road on Indy’s west side.
The musical follows the same plot as the popular 2000 film, “Billy Elliot.” In a poor British mining town during the 1984 strike, a widower and his eldest son — for both men, being miners is all they know — send the younger son, Billy, to boxing lessons, but the lad instead takes up ballet and enjoys it.
Thomas Whitcomb is Billy — risky casting as the actor is a high school senior and the character is middle-school age, but Whitcomb’s boyish looks and not being much taller than actual eighth-grader Jack Ducat as Billy’s pal, Michael, help him fit the role.
Good thing, too, as he is an excellent dancer, including being able to convincingly be inept in the first act (as novice Billy can hardly keep up with the practiced girls in his class), then show the flashes of talent that alert instructor Mrs. Wilkinson (Holly Stults) that he is truly something special.
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When finally allowed to show his full range, Whitcomb is amazing.
Bill Book masterfully steers the role of Billy’s dad from a man determined not to see his son appear unmanly to a proud father who realizes Billy has a chance to escape from their hardscrabble life. The other son Tony (Tyler Ostrander) takes a lot more convincing and is perhaps jealous as he sees little opportunity for himself outside the mines.
Also notable are the main women of the show: Miki Mathioudakis, charming as ever as Grandma Elliot, whose mind comes and goes but never loses the memory of dancing with her late husband; Stults, inspiring as the teacher with a tough exterior but a warm heart and devotion to her craft; and Trisha Shepherd as the ghost/vision/memory of Billy’s mother, making her supernatural presence feel completely natural.
Another gentle hero of the story is Ducat’s Michael, who indulges in wearing his mother’s clothes and doesn’t seem hung up about the likelihood of being gay. The comfortable acceptance between him and Billy is refreshing — and easy to forget was more of a shock in the year the film came out, let alone the mid-’80s setting.
Aside from lots of humor and heart, the show features excellent dancing — ballet, tap, full-cast arrangements, even a wild “Angry Dance” — the best choreography I’ve seen by Kenny Shepard.
Overall, the show, even with its cast of over two dozen, flows well and is easy to follow. The pace and British accents made the song “Solidarity” a little hard to understand, but the accompanying movements and context helped me keep up. Book’s singing “Deep Into the Ground” will break your heart; but more often, the play features big laughs, including a hilarious cameo by Sean Seager as a muscular Hungarian dancer.
The content is PG-ish, though language gets salty when the topic of Margaret Thatcher comes up. For information and tickets, visit bobdirex.com.
Bobdirex theater company presents the local premiere of “Billy Elliot: The Musical,” weekends through July 10 at the Marian University Theater (former location of the Indianapolis Civic), 3200 Cold Spring Road on Indy’s west side. See bobdirex.com for ticket info.