There’s a scene near the end of the musical “Billy Elliot” — when Billy stands alone on stage holding his simple blue suitcase — that’ll always remind me of a very special night spent with my daughter Lizabeth.
In just a few months, she’ll be the one holding the suitcase, saying her goodbyes and leaving behind her hometown to follow her dreams in another city — possibly even NYC.
We saw “Billy Elliot” together Wednesday night, as her deadline to choose a college theater program loomed. It might have seemed an altogether different show any other night.
But that night, it felt full of messages meant for one particular mother and daughter who know their everyday time together is coming to an end.
For a young woman faced with multiple paths, all leading to different variations on a theme: the future. And all with no roadmap in sight.
Early in the musical, life feels pretty black and white for Billy and his family. But Billy discovers dance. His dad discovers Billy. And a community discovers a rainbow of greys.
“Billy Elliot” comes close to being one of my favorite pieces of musical theater — falling short in part because of uneven pacing and staging that feels unnecessarily complicated at times.
Lizabeth and I agree that the music is a bit hit and miss. Our favorites are those you may be most familiar with — including “Once We Were Kings,” “Solidarity” and “Electricity.” “Dear Billy,” during its second incarnation, made both of us weep.
There’s plenty of dancing for ballet and tap fans, much of it delivered by tiny packages of power and pizzazz.
Scenes that couple the dancing of a young Billy (Daniel Russell the evening we attended) with his older, future self (Maximilien A. Baud, who has danced with Ballet Arizona) are particularly poignant — and beautiful to watch.
Those who see “Billy Elliot” will promptly get their politics, puppetry and pirouette fix. All served up with a heavy dose of teen angst and midlife musings. Plus a barrel of belly laughs — and a bit of cross-dressing.
Were it not for lots of language unsuitable for young children, I’d have to put “Billy Elliot” right up there with “Annie” at the top of the list for shows most likely to make kids fall in love with not just watching musical theater, but performing it as well.
I’d have worried, when my children were less than 12 or so, about exposing them to some of the language (and one particular gesture) in this show. Lizabeth missed her first opportunity to see a touring production of “Chicago” for just that reason.
But today I’d favor a different decision. Because, as Billy discovers when sent on an errand at a local dance studio, children don’t always know they love something unless given the opportunity to see it.
For me, the sheer joy of watching young cast members dance forgives a whole lot of “piss off” type material. I may have to see the show again just so I can spend more time watching Billy. (Lizabeth is already planning to take her dad.)
I was rather captivated, my first time around, by the tiniest pig-tailed girl in the show — Cassidy Hagel (“Ballet Girl”). And Griffin Birney (“Michael”) is beyond-belief-funny.
Still, it was another child who really tugged at my heart Wednesday night. I hope she knows how terribly proud I am of her, wherever she decides to follow her dreams.
Note: “Billy Elliot” is being performed at ASU Gammage in Tempe through May 8. Click here for show and ticket information.
Coming up: Jennifer’s marching orders