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Zach Manske (Billy), Janet Dickinson (Mrs. Wilkinson), Samantha Blaire Cutler (Debbie) and the cast of “Billy Elliot the Musical.”

Doug Blemker,

BILLY ELLIOT

What: Music by Elton John. Book and lyrics by Lee Hall. Directed by Stephen Daldry.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sat. & Sun.

Where: Ordway Center, 5th and Washington Sts., St. Paul.

Tickets: $36-$106. 651-224-4222 or www.ordway.org.

This engaging 'Billy' takes gorgeous flight

  • Article by: ROHAN PRESTON
  • Star Tribune
  • October 10, 2012 - 7:23 PM

Tickets to "Billy Elliot," which top off at $106, are spendy in these economically difficult times. But lovers of fabulous theater should run -- make that leap at the chance -- to see the brief run of this marvelous show at the Ordway Center.

The Broadway blockbuster, which won 10 Tonys in 2009, lives up to its hype.

Director Stephen Daldry's touring production that landed Tuesday in St. Paul stars a best-of-the-best cast (the Broadway run closed in January) that swings confidently for every scene, and knocks each of them out of the park.

The sterling ensemble -- which is gritty and rough when it needs to be, tender and poignant at other times -- makes this show an engaging delight, even if initially an American ear has to sort through some thick northern English accents in order to hear the gems.

Even Elton John's sometimes jarring music and Lee Hall's obvious-rhymed lyrics sound better, thanks to vivacious conductor Bill Congdon.

"Billy" is a musical about the dying of a community and the tending of an unlikely individual dream. The show, based on a 2000 movie by Hall and director Daldry, is set in 1980s England, where Iron Lady Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is determined to destroy a union of striking coal miners. Billy's miner father (Rich Hebert) sends his son (played on Tuesday by Noah Parets, who alternates performances with three other young men, including 13-year-old Woodbury native Zach Manske) to a boxing gym so he can man up. But the boy doesn't have the heart to become a pugilist.

Instead, Billy finds himself in a ballet class run by been-around-the-block smoker Mrs. Wilkinson (Janet Dickinson). Billy begins to like dance and gets important peer support from his cross-dressing friend, Michael (Jake Kitchin) even as the would-be Rudolf Nureyev meets resistance from Dad and his older brother.

Eventually, Billy's dreams get community buy-in even as that community gets crushed.

On Tuesday, Parets imbued Billy with honesty, sweetness and an indomitable spirit. Everything in the show conspires to favor Billy's ambition, from the bluster of his father to the boots and batons of the riot police (Peter Darling did the choreography). Parets played the role like a Stradivarius. All the players nailed their moments, including Patti Perkins as the dotty grandmother, Kitchin as the free and fearless friend and Patrick Wetzel as surprisingly agile dance-studio help Mr. Braithwaite.

All in all, this "Billy" is irresistible.

Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390

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