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Story and Red Carpet photos by Andy Argyrakis
As for the man behind the music, Sir Elton John literally stopped the presses as he walked down the red carpet to hundreds of flashbulbs and a surge of fans that bordered on a frenzy. But upon taking his seat in the theatre with an extensive entourage, including Oprah Winfrey and Jesse Jackson, it was clear that even his massive star power couldn't make the musical as infallible as critics have suggested thus far.
In a nutshell, main character Billy Elliot (played by star in the making Cesar Corrales) wants to be a ballet dancer, but his father, who just so happens to be a coal miner in the midst of a strike, hopes he'll take up boxing and follow the family's blue collar tradition. At first, the young boy keeps his passion a secret, but inevitably, his dad finds out and explodes with rage. Thankfully the show picks up momentum after Elliot's forbidden to dance, his increasing fascination with the subject also leads to stunning chorography, including the hysterical cross dressing scene "Expressing Yourself" and the stunningly complicated "Angry Dance."
Though the cast sings along with fervor at every twist and turn, the tunes don't actually heat up until that latter track, but considering it's just an instrumental, it's difficult to remember. Unfortunately, no tunes from the second act stood out with the degree of say John's previous work on "The Lion King" or even "Aida" (let alone his stable of 250 million selling singles). Sure there was a mighty full company collaboration of "Once We Were Kings" (which comes after a failed attempt at the coal miners standing up to the establishment), but when boiling down the songs themselves, they lacked a unifying contagiousness.
Still it was hard not to leave "Billy Elliot" without a smile, if only for the showstopping "Company Celebration" number in which lead celebrates his liberation and family's eventual acceptance. Add in a curtain call that all of the performers and the creative team (including John) wearing a tutu and there was certainly some comic relief to the sometimes serious storyline. While the show's sure to reel in the dance community and score glowing approval ratings, Elton John fans are best served sticking with his traditional CDs and concerts.
"Billy Elliot" is currently on sale through August 8 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre. For additional details, visit www.broadwayinchicago.com or www.billyelliotchicago.com.
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