Total Rating: 
***
Images: 
Ended: 
November 26, 2017
Country: 
USA
State: 
Illinois
City: 
Chicago
Company/Producers: 
Porchlight Music Theater
Theater Type: 
Regional
Theater: 
Ruth Page Center for the Arts
Theater Address: 
1016 North Dearborn Street
Genre: 
Musical
Author: 
Music: Elton John. Book/Lyrics: Lee Hall
Director: 
Brenda Didier
Review: 

Porchlight Music Theater's delight in its nifty new home at the Ruth Page Center is palpable—indeed, on view for everyone to share. For starters, it can now assemble a cast of 35 performers on the stage—at the same time, mind—for a singing-and-tapping curtain call. It can hoist its young hero on fly-wires for dream sequences. It can dazzle us with a soliloquy choreographed by both dance and fight instructors.

It can spread its seven-piece orchestra over the width of the room to diffuse the volume evenly throughout the auditorium. Oh, and unlike touring and suburban productions, the actors and audience are sufficiently close to swap eye contact and smiles. Of course, these riches could have been squandered on any old standard-repertoire retread, were co-artistic company directors Michael Weber and Jeannie Lukow not savvy enough to take advantage of the long lead time presented by structural rehabs to instead choose Billy Elliot, an inaugural project not only ambitious in scope, but reflecting a theme as timely today in our own country as in Thatcher-era England—that of leaving home, whether spurred by necessity or opportunity, for a future as uncertain as it is auspicious.

Framed thusly, the adults striking against a government shut-down of the coal mines that fuel their town's economy are not portrayed merely as stodgy stiflers of free-spirited gender-role mavericks like ballet-dancing Billy and his cross-dressing sidekick Michael, but as likewise uneasy pilgrims adrift in an environment no longer offering them comfort and security.

In addition to the youngsters' rallying cries provided by Elton John and Lee Hall's score, there are hymns in affirmation of their fathers' occupations and the noble cultural heritage engendered thereby.

Director Brenda Didier accomplishes it all in under two and a half hours of seamless spectacle amply fulfilled by an ensemble featuring a squad of high-spirited and high-stepping children led by Lincoln Seymour (alternating with Jacob Kaiser) and Peyton Owen as the boys destined to make their own way in the world, along with Sean Fortunato and Shanesia Davis as coal-country parents with their own unfulfilled artistic aspirations and Iris Lieberman and Tommy Novak demonstrating that hoofers above a certain age and weight can still be as agile as their more oftenseen peers.

Miscellaneous: 
This review first appeared in Windy City Times, 10/17
Critic: 
Mary Shen Barnidge
Date Reviewed: 
November 2017