The Italians refer to the suddenly love-struck as those hit by ‘the thunderbolt’ — colpo di fulmine. I think the same phenomenon can occur with art. Great music, a wonderful film, a painting, a story, can sometimes move a person to extraordinary emotional heights. I recall reading Bertrand Russell recount that when, in university, he first heard a friend recite Blake’s poem The Tyger, its emotional impact made him feel weak in the knees, and he nearly collapsed. Such was its power, the power of its beauty and truth, one could say. Perhaps it was also the power of its reflection of innocence. Revelations of innocence can induce overwhelming feelings.
When I first saw the film Billy Elliot, after its release about ten years ago, its story and its characters amounted to an emotional lightning strike on me. It was the most compelling examination of innocence that I had ever seen — Billy’s creative innocence struggling for expression in his profane world. Here was a boy yearning to release, through dance, the soulfulness that he felt burning inside him, but frustrated in this ambition by the harshness of an environment and home life where soulfulness is hardly understood, let alone placed as priority.
Then when, in 2005, the wonders of the movie were translated to the West End London stage as Billy Elliot the Musical, winning record-breaking numbers of awards and astronomic critical praise, Billy’s story soared to its ultimate expression. I couldn’t wait for the show to come near to home, here in Canada. When I finally saw the production (several times, but never enough) during its Toronto run this year, I felt I had experienced something bewitching, the apogee of musical theatre, something that can affect an audience with supreme joy, and cathartic sorrow — both.
And although I sense that my personal love for the show has at least something to do with certain identifiers from my own boyhood, which I feel I share with the Billy story, I am hardly alone in fulsome praise. To date, there have been thousands of standing ovations from the millions who have seen Billy Elliot the Musical — even standing ovations throughout the performance.
But, alas, now that ‘our’ production has closed, all that is left for the Billy-bewitched in the Toronto area is to lament its passing, hoping only that, perhaps, one day I might make the trip to New York or London to see it there. For now, I can only think how I will miss this wonderful show, and wistfully conjure all its delicious scenes.
Credit: Photo by Chris Young
How I will miss Billy Elliot the Musical, let me count the ways:
I’ll miss the opening scene, Billy’s soulful, reflective, ‘Take Me Up and Hold Me Gently,’ and sassy Michael tearing across the stage on his bike. I’ll miss Mrs. Wilkinson’s exhortations to ‘Shine.’ I’ll miss the boxin’ and the dancin’ class. I’ll miss ‘Grandma’s Song’ and the defiant ‘Solidarity’ chorus. And how terribly I’ll miss Michael’s ‘Expressing Yourself’ show-stopper — his wonderfully cheeky little face, looking every bit like the cat that swallowed the canary, lighting up the stage.
And ohh, ‘The Letter.’ I’ll miss the deep and delicious sentiment it makes you feel, even with the heartache.
I’ll miss the unrestrained joy of ‘Born to Boogie,’ and the heart-in-mouth business of Billy’s back-flip off the piano.
I’ll miss ‘The Angry Dance’ in all its righteous, innocent, poetic anger.
I’ll miss the hilarious ‘Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher;’ the poignant ‘Deep Into the Ground;’ the gorgeous ‘Dream Ballet.’
I’ll miss ‘He Could Be a Star’ with the touching anguish of Billy’s dad, and the miners’ sacrificial offerings.
I’ll miss ‘Electricity,’ of course, the amazing summation of his passion for dance, where Billy finds his words, beautifully expressing the inexpressible. I’ll miss the achingly wistful ‘Once We Were Kings.’ I’ll miss the happy-sadness of Billy’s leaving; the ‘Oy…Dancin’ boy!’ and the rending, compassionate farewell to Michael.
Ultimately, I’ll miss Billy Elliot The Musical because, for me, and, I suspect, thousands of others, it is the most perfect musical comedy/drama. Perfect, not only because of the brilliance of its dancing, its music, and its lyrics, but because it is about every facet of life, and love, and death, and loss, and the whole damn thing. It is about the anguish of growing up, facing conflicting values — those of your own heart, and those of the people you love. It is about the agony of a motherless child; the stress of pressures to conform; the deep bonds of childhood friendships, and their tragic, often inevitable terminations. It is about social injustice; the pride in work; the pride of community.
Most of all it is about one wonderful, charming boy, his powerful talent, his undaunted dream, and his ultimate victory over every obstacle to its realization. And it’s about how the love (often very tough love) of family and friends helped him overcome those obstacles and realize that victory.
I’ll miss Billy Elliot the Musical, because the stage production, which compelled me to multiple viewings, is now no longer in Toronto, no longer nearby. I’ll achingly miss Billy, Michael, and all the Everington gang, because they bewitched me with this magnificent work of art. Yes, art. It is musical theatre’s high art. It is a beautiful thing; and now that it is gone (for too long, I suspect, from our Toronto stages) it is, for me, almost too painfully beautiful to remember. Almost.
Guest article by L. G. Eaglesham
L. G. Eaglesham is an avid theatre-goer and freelance writer in Ontario Canada.