|Matthew Dean and Jenny Hintze|
Photo by Reg Madison Photography
Click here for more information on this production that runs through December 24th.
"...attempting a production of the British musical drama Billy Elliot is difficult enough. The fact that Phoenix Theatre in Phoenix under Michael Barnard’s fluid direction pulls it off is nothing short of a miracle. Set against the devastating year-long United Kingdom coal miners’ strike of the eighties....The focus is on a young boy who discovers an untapped talent within. It becomes his chance to escape the low-paid, hard knock life that everyone around him in County Durham has ever known....young Billy Elliot (a hugely talented Matthew Dean)...observes ..the ballet class for young girls, taught by cigarette smoking Mrs. Wilkinson (a wonderfully acerbic Jenny Hintze). There’s something about the grace, the beauty of the movement, that ignites a never-before known passion within Billy, and he hangs around to watch some more....his father (an excellent Chris Erikson) and his hot-head brother, Tony (a well cast Alex Kunz) are less than pleased. ...Robert Kovach’s intentionally drab, grubby and effective set designs nicely capture the essence of Billy’s home, the local community, the mine entrance and various other locations of town. ...The impression of Northern England during the mid-eighties is also enhanced by Cari Sue Smith’s costumes that truly capture the essence of a Brit’s working class...Sam Hay’s choreography ranges from the elegant, to the angry...As for the score, it’s good, but not every song is a winner. There’s a flatness to some of Elton John’s melodies where only the chorus seems to click, yet when they work, they really soar. ...the best is saved to near the end. As the beaten, emotionally drained miners return back to the cold, dank mines, they sing of "Once We Were Kings". Quiet at first, then with proud, raised, unaccompanied robust voices, their harmonies bounce from wall to wall, filling the Phoenix Theatre auditorium. Goosebumps are all but guaranteed." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)
"...Billy Elliot the Musical, which is based on the award winning film, is filled with rich, layered characters, many of whom are up against great odds. It is a cathartic experience full of depth but also a deeply personal story about the give and take of life. Phoenix Theatre presents the area premiere of the musical in a smartly directed and sumptuous production with an incredibly talented cast... tells the story of 12-year-old Billy, who realizes that he wants to be a dancer, and the struggles he endures to fulfill his dream. His father and brother, and many people in town, are miners who are fighting a bitter strike. ...Billy's mother passed away several years previously, his father is emotionally distant, his grandmother is a little off her rocker, and Billy hides the fact that he is going to dance classes as he doesn't think anyone in his town will understand....with music by Elton John and lyrics by bookwriter Lee Hall, based on his screenplay for the 2000 film, ensures that the grand scope and violent reality of the strike and the struggles of the people in this town are not forgotten amid the more personable story of Billy's desire to dance. ...director Michael Barnard and choreographer Sam Hay do a superb job in seamlessly intertwining the plight of the miners with the story of Billy's journey. The cast is excellent, led by a rich and fulfilling performance by Matthew Dean as Billy. Dean delivers an inspiring portrayal and excellently gets across the many layers of this complicated but charming boy who is lost due to the loss of his mother and the fact that his father truly has no understanding of how to raise him or give him the acceptance that he so deeply needs. ...Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy's dance teacher, is played by Jenny Hintze, and she does an excellent job of showing us how this world-weary woman sees a spark in Billy that she hopes, under her guidance, can help get him out of this town and out of a life as a miner. Chris Eriksen is just as good as Billy's father. ... expertly shows the changes his character goes through once he realizes how important dancing is to Billy. The joy he evokes during the number "Electricity" when his character sees what his son is capable of is one of the most emotionally stirring, heartbreaking, and inspiring moments I've seen on stage all year. ... Maria Amorocho is a hoot as Billy's grandmother...Alex Kunz is full of fire as Billy's headstrong brother Tony, and Katie Hart is full of life as Billy's warm mom whom Billy often finds himself talking to when he is alone. As Billy's friend Michael, Ross Nemeth delivers a no-nonsense, showstopping performance of a boy who fancies dressing up in women's clothes to express himself. ...Billy Elliot is a musical that shows how the arts can allow people to express themselves. In Billy's case, it is his joy of dance that lets him communicate his emotions and it also provides a brief escape from the world. With excellent creative aspects, direction and choreography and deeply rich performances, Phoenix Theatre's production of this award winning musical is both upbeat and joyful and a stirring, powerful and emotionally rewarding experience." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)
"...Phoenix Theatre’s emotionally moving musical “Billy Elliot”......a flawless presentation of “Billy Elliot” staged by (Michael) Barnard, PT scores its greatest triumph in a remarkably engaging production... “Billy Elliot” is no easy show to mount with its splashy display of exuberantly athletic dances and swift scenic changes about a small Northern English town as it captures a young boy’s determination to achieve dance stardom using his natural talent as the pulsating dances change thinking about the dance profession...Remarkable as Billy Elliot is Matthew Dean. This 7th grader possesses a dynamic personality, amazing dance acumen, a strong singing voice, and the acting chops to create a vibrant character. No less amazing is Jenny Hintze’s steadfastly determined Mrs. Wilkinson, Chris Eriksen’s understanding Dad, and Maria Amorocho’s loving Grandma. Other pluses are believable English accents, gritty sets that create the town’s downtrodden appearance, and an orchestra that plays the Elton John score with passion. ." --Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)
"“Billy Elliot” is one of the best musicals of the 21st century. It has a moving story about a working-class English boy who defies a macho culture to pursue his dream of becoming a ballet dancer....Phoenix Theatre’s new production hews closely to the West End/Broadway original, and it comes close to delivering the same impact....12-year-old Matthew Dean ...was impressive, both in his dance...and in creating a nuanced character who isn’t always able to articulate exactly what’s on his mind. Chris Eriksen, as Billy’s dad, shines...The only spots where Michael Barnard’s direction falls short are the most dramatic moments, which are both a bit overacted and also somewhat rushed...an intimate story and complex social context, and a talented cast rises to the challenge. " - Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)
"BILLY ELLIOT is a spectacle of moving proportions, a celebration of the human spirit...Under Michael Barnard's direction, the opus is magnum, a grand collaboration of choreography (Sam Hay), music (Alan Ruch), scenic design (Robert Kovach), lighting (Michael J. Eddy), and wardrobe (Cari Sue Smith) that all together convey the spartan conditions of the working class and give context to Billy's quest.. seventh grader Matthew Dean....has feet that spring to great heights and reveal a natural talent with potential yet to unfold. He's accompanied by a great ensemble that features some standout performances. As Mrs. Wilkinson, the dance instructor who offers Billy a pathway to fulfillment, Jenny Hintze radiates the pain of a life unfulfilled and the spunk of a woman determined to beat the odds. Katie Hart is moving as the spirit of Billy's "dead mum" that infuses him with inspiration and resolve. Alex Kunz is a raging force of fire against the authorities and a bully to Billy's aspiration. Then there is Ross Nemeth, who, by himself, may be worth the price of the ticket, for his stunning and poignantly-comical turn as Michael, Billy's best friend who reveals he's gay. All together it's a lustrous cast that makes this uplifting production of BILLY ELLIOT a Holiday Season must-see." - Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)