Tag Archives: child actors

Musings on “Billy Elliot”

A boy, a chair and an irrepressible need to dance (Daniel Russell as Billy Elliot, Photo by Kyle Froman)

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.

— Lynn

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


VYT earns an “Easy A”

"Easy A" opens in movie theaters nationwide on Sept 17

Note: This post has been corrected subsequent to its initial posting.

Usually a stickler for staying home on school nights, I made an exception last Wednesday to take Lizabeth to a preview of “Easy A” at the AMC Movie Theatre at the Arizona Center in Phoenix.

We learned of the movie’s Arizona premiere because we get e-alerts from several Valley theaters — including Valley Youth Theatre, where Lizabeth volunteered not too long ago on the technical crew for “Cinderella” at the Herberger Theater Center.

“Easy A” stars Emma Stone — well known to Valley theater buffs as one of many young actors who honed their skills performing with Valley Youth Theatre, which is headed by the highly acclaimed and heavily awarded Bobb Cooper.

Stone, known to Valley audiences for years as “Emily,” has performed in several VYT productions — including Old Queen Maude in “The Princess and the Pea” and Portia in “Cinderella” (both earned AriZoni Awards).

Cooper proudly introduced the movie after sharing that VYT’s current production of “Grease” has just been extended due to popular demand (you can now enjoy the work being performed at VYT through the Labor Day weekend).

I met an especially delightful mother and son during the “Easy A” premiere. The son first caught my eye while going in and out of the aisle where we were sitting. I always choose an aisle seat, so other folks have to step over me for those fabulous popcorn runs.

Stone's character "Olive" only pretends to be "easy"

“Excuse me,” he said each time he passed. Always a stickler for manners with my own children, I’m ever impressed when I see other youth (and their parents) shine in good manners mode.

We got to chatting after the movie — which easily earned an “A” in my book (despite rampant use of words I’d rather not print here). It’s smart, funny and best described by Lizabeth as “sophisticated.”

The screenwriter pretty much rocked our world, for a whole host of reasons that I’ll share in an upcoming post.

Anyhow, the mom shared that her son will soon be performing in his third VYT production. Recently he appeared in “The Hobbit” and “Willy Wonka.” Next up is “Pinkalicious” — being performed at VYT Oct 1-17.

Seems he’s also a film buff, so I invited him to shoot me a review for possible posting. I can’t wait to see what he does with it — especially since I gave him a rather short deadline.  He shook my hand and I knew he’d work hard at crafting a strong piece.

VYT alumna Emma Stone

I expect to post a detailed review as the movie hits theaters nationwide on Sept 17. For now let me just share how delightful it was to enjoy a movie premiere featuring more than one longtime local talent.

Lizabeth noted that the cast also includes Max Crumm, who first gained national attention as the winning “Danny” on NBC’s reality show titled “Grease: You’re the One That I Want” and went on to star in a Broadway revival of the musical “Grease.”

Hit the VYT website to learn about the many acting gigs and other adventures of VYT alumni — and the many shows you can enjoy seeing them perform this season (including “Annie” at the newly-renovated Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix).

And stay tuned for a guest blogger review of “Easy A” — which has already earned high marks with at least a solid 4 out of 5 stars in my book.

— Lynn

Note: Auditions for VYT’s “Winnie the Pooh Christmas Tale” (a musical) will be held Sept 20 and 21 at 3:30pm at Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix. Click here for audition details. Or click here for a comprehensive listing of Valley auditions for youth and adults provided by Durant Communications.

Coming up: Shakespeare ala symphony, opera and ballet; Multicultural music and dance

“The Lion King” – and leukemia

Some memories will be with me for a lifetime.

Shannon Tavarez needs a bone marrow transplant

Watching children release purple, orange and white balloons into the sky to honor a young friend and Suns fan who lost his battle with leukemia.

Standing in a dark, drenching rain as a small coffin engraved with a beautiful Star of David is lowered into the ground.

Carving designs and messages on small circles of clay to be glazed and assembled into a wall mural memorial.

My children have lost two schoolmates to leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that can take many forms.

Memories of those times came flooding back recently when we learned that Shannon Tavarez, age 11, has been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia.

Before her illness, Shannon was performing the role of “Nala” in “The Lion King” on Broadway — something she landed with no prior professional experience and an audition she viewed as nothing more than a way to have fun.

ABC News reports that Shannon, who lives in New York City, is part African American and part Hispanic and needs a bone marrow transplant from someone who is a genetic match.

Shannon flashes her beautiful smile

Click here to read their story on Shannon, which explains why finding donors for some patients is particularly difficult. Then ask yourself how you’d feel if it was your child, your own baby cub.

Even if you’re an unlikely match for Shannon, please consider getting tested. Genetic roulette is frightening under all kinds of circumstances. But as more of us get tested and entered into the national bone marrow donor registry, we up the odds for children like Shannon.

I want Shannon’s family and friends to live with very different memories than those faced by the families of the two young boys my children went to school with.

Her first date. Her first apartment. Her first Tony Award. Her first trip around the world.

And, of course, the day they got a call about the compassion — and action — of a friend or stranger that led to the life-saving transplant and recovery that made all the rest of it possible.

Please take time to learn how you can help

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about becoming a possible bone marrow donor — and please share this post with others so we can help spread the word. Click here to learn about African American Bone Marrow Awareness Month, presented by the National Marrow Donor Program in partnership with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

Photos: Top, right: From www.whiotv.com; Middle, left: From www.nydailynews.com; Lower, right: From www.dkmsamericas.com (photo by Karen Detrick)