Monday, December 7, 2015
Today I am grateful to offer a theater review. I have ranted before about the movie, “Billie Elliot” and the revised-for-the-stage musical-play by Elton John & Lee Hall that I saw on TV a few weeks ago, live from Broadway. Now I’m going to sing the praises of the production at the Media Music Theatre Company, in Media, PA.
Wow! Just wow! Billy Elliot is set in England during the miner’s strike of 1984. British accents are a must and so is the rhythm of language and cursing necessary for that particular socio-economic class of people. Accents often start out great, but then dissipate as the production continues. Not with this cast. They were maintained throughout.
Each secondary character held focus and were spot-on with their performances and I know because I watched them all. Set changes moved like a well-greased machine and the lighting, while sometimes a bit too shaded in spots for me, did a lot to set the tone. When the miners went to the mine you could almost feel the heat. . .and the jerk of the shaft elevator when the mechanisms started churning. Powerful.
All of this was great, but for me, it’s about the dancing. Oh my, the dancing. Foolish dances, ballet, tap, jazz, even a little bit of gymnastics, flourished throughout. Billy’s
Angry Dance was over-the-top wonderful. (Gunar Daniels performed at our show.) Couple the dancing with live music, well-played by talented musicians and I am a happy theater-goer.
Anne Connors as Billy’s dance instructor, Zachary Wobensmith as his dad, JD Triolo as his best friend were all stand-outs, each for different reasons, but his Grandma, played by Susan Wefel was my personal favorite, probably because it was the role I could see myself doing, though not as well as her. She was the perfect mix of sass, compassion and humor and performed beyond expectations.
My positive comments wouldn’t mean a thing if I didn’t include a few glitches that can be easily improved upon. Up stage right there was a problem with the black curtain popping open as people moved past or scenery was struck. It pulled focus from the activity in many scenes. Okay, I notice stuff like this and I am nit-picking, but it was distracting and could easily be fixed with another mask curtain or less backstage lighting at certain moments.
A rousing dance number (I can’t remember which one, but it was before intermission), with nearly the entire cast, including children, was followed by a poignant, quiet scene downstage right. I could barely hear it because of the talking and noise the cast made after they had exited. Look cast, I get it that you’re excited and the number was great and fun, but once you are off stage, you have to stop the noise. Immediately. I’m sure your Artistic Director, Jesse Cline has given you notes on this and he’s right. This is what separates the pros from the amateurs and you were pros in every other way, even the littlest among you. This is also a fixable problem.
Media is literally 37 minutes from my house and I never knew about the theater there. The quaint town is decorated beautifully with lights outlining every downtown building in boathouse row tradition. There are shops, coffee houses, cafés and restaurants everywhere.
Treat yourself and someone you care about, just like our son, Patrick and his wife, Karen treated us (last year’s Christmas gift-thank you very much for nailing this one) and take them to see “Billie Elliot” at the Media Theatre. I promise you won’t regret it. Be prepared for real language, spoken by youngsters, in believable situations. As a writer, I applaud the decision to not censor.
“Billie Elliot” runs through January 3, 2016. For more information or to get tickets visit the website at mediatheatre.org or call 610-891-0100. Tell them Mary Mooney sent you!