Billy Elliot – ASB Waterfront Theatre October 13, 2016

Auckland Theatre Company Production of Billy Elliot. Director Colin McColl. Production photographs Michael Smith

If there’s one musical to make you leap in the air it’s Billy Elliot, and the triumphant tale of overcoming adversity is the perfect choice to open the brand-spanking new ASB Waterfront Theatre.

Based on the feel-good film about a young boy struggling to become a ballet dancer against the dramatic backdrop of Britain’s miners’ strikes in 1984, Billy Elliot the Musical finally lands on our shores with the two-and-a-half hour show running until October 22. The iconic music is supplied by Elton John, who was left sobbing after watching the movie at the Cannes Film Festival back in 2000.

The Auckland Theatre Company should be proud, their decade long determination to find a home has resulted in an intimate 668-seat venue where you can practically smell Billy’s ballet slippers. They should be equally chuffed with their phenomenal performance of this crowd-pleasing show. The raucous audience hollered, hooted and stomped along, highlighting the appeal of live theatre – you can’t help but get caught up in the production’s infectious energy.

None was more infectious than Jaxson Cook, who plays a blimming brilliant Billy. Three local lads share the load but opening night was Cook’s, and the Chilton School of Dance student had a presence and skill that belied his age. Cook’s dream-like dance with an older version of himself was absorbing, especially as the routine ended with audacious aerial acrobatics. He also shows his wild side in a Kevin Bacon Footloose-styled scene, letting out raw anger via tap dance as all hell breaks loose on the picket line.

Billy Elliot the Musical really let’s the stellar cast shine – Jodie Dorday fills Julie Walters shoes with aplomb as ballet teacher Mrs Wilkinson, Stephen Lovatt’s comedic timing is impeccable and you wouldn’t believe it’s his first singing role as Billy’s dad and young West Coast native Stanley Reedy is a riot as Billy’s cross-dressing mate Michael. But it was Rima Te Wiata as Billy’s naughty nan who blew me away. Following up from her hilarious turn in Hunt for the Wilderpeople the Rima-naissance continued as she brought the house down Grandma’s Song – a bittersweet ode to a brutal marriage.

But Billy doesn’t knock you down for long, it always picks you up after heavy moments with some cracker laughs. Mixing ballet and boxing provides some great physical comedy (you’ll fall in love with a scene-stealing seven-year-old), but a lot of laughs do come from cursing – just bear in mind when bringing the young’uns along.

Though it would be worth it if you want them to get into dance. The striking choreography is a highlight, Solidarity manages to mix miners, policeman and ballet dancers with ease, while the tap-dancing routine of Expressing Yourself has Jaxson and Reedy having the time of their life alongside insanely giant dresses.

The state of the art stage lives up to the hype, with the impressive set smoothly swinging in and out of action. Kudos to the costume and set designer Tracy Grand Lord who uses forced perspective to bring a real depth to this rugged mining town. The lighting was incredibly effective too, from the miner’s lights shining into the audience to the sudden switch from Billy’s purple-hazed dance to a confrontation with his dad. And it was a great touch to have the band actually on stage behind chicken wire.

Before the entertaining as hell finale, Mrs Wilkinson tells Billy he’s ‘f**king special’. That sums up the show – and the theatre – quite nicely. Take a leap and get the family along for a magical night.

Clayton Barnett

Click on any image to view a photo gallery courtesy of photographer Michael Smith: