Thursday, February 23, 2017

"Billy Elliot" Soars on the Wheelock Stage - Through February 26th

The current Wheelock Family Theatre production of "Billy Elliot," with music by Elton John and Book and Lyrics by Lee Hall, is a total delight. The blend of young talent with seasoned veterans of the stage has been wonderfully overseen by Director Susan Kosoff.

Here is the talented cast:

About the Actors

"Wheelock Family Theatre operates under contract with Actors Equity Association (AEA). AEA members in the cast include Neil Gustafson (Dad), Aimee Doherty (Mrs. Wilkinson), Jared Troilo (Tony), Cheryl P. Singleton (Grandma), Gary Thomas Ng (Mr. Braithwaite), Peter S. Adams (Big Davey), Robin Long (Dead Mum), Steve Gagliastro (George), Byron Darden (Posh Dad/ Scab), and Caroline Workman (Leslie). Featured in the ensemble are actors AJ Manuel Lucero, Ben Salus, Brad Foster Reinking, Edward Simon, Gian Raffaele DiCostanzo, Gigi Watson, Mark Dreher, and Mark Soucy. Will Christmann plays older Billy.

At WFT, young thespians have the opportunity to perform on stage with professional actors. WFT conducted an extensive search last spring for the lead role and is pleased to announce that Seth Judice, 13, of Houston, TX, will play Billy. Shane Boucher, 15, of New London, NH, will play Billy’s best friend, Michael, and Billy understudy. Maxwell Seelig plays Posh/ Tall boy and Ben Choi-Harris plays Small Boy. Lily Ramras plays ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson’s daughter, Debbie. Other members of the ballet girl ensemble include Addison Oken, Aimee Coleman, Anabel Moda, Charlotte B. Um, Elizabeth Crawford, Emi Rodes, Haven Pereira, Isabelle Cotney, Joey Gold, Lily Park. Madi Shaer, Margaret McFadden, Natalie Hall, Phoebe Anthony, Tessa Bigelow, and Zoe Stewart."

Many readers are already familiar with this inspiration story of a young boy who grows up in a coal mining town in northern England, who reluctantly is drawn to the world of ballet. It is a story that lights a blaze of wonder and hope in audiences of all ages. Billy's family, struggling to eke out a living in the midst of a bitter strike against the government of Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher, is initially appalled that Billy would pursue such a sissy diversion, instead of using his weekly 50p allowance to pay for boxing lessons. Themes of acceptance are beautifully woven into this story. Billy must come to accept his ability to dance, and to acknowledge to himself his love for ballet. His family must find a way to reconcile his unusual giftedness with a rock hard image of what it means to be a real man or boy. Billy must struggle to figure out how to respond to his best friend, Michael, who reveals to Billy that he enjoys dressing up in women's clothing. In a pivotal scene, one can almost see the gears turning in Billy's brain as he performs the calculus of saying to himself, "Well, if I am asking people to accept me as a dancer, can I do any less than offer acceptance to Michael for his unusual choice of clothing?" Instead of judging Michael, Billy goes along and turns what could have been an alienating moment into a fun game.

Musical Director Jon Goldberg leads a lively 9-piece orchestra. Choreographer Laurel Conrad allows the cast to use every inch of space on the Wheelock stage to tell their story through movement. The Set Design by Matthew T. Lazure evokes the grittiness of the coal mining town, and Lighting by Franklin Meissner, Jr. and Sound by Eric Norris help to alert the audience to shifting moods. Costumes by Melissa Miller perfectly capture the ethos of the time and place.

Seth Judice as Billy Elliot
"Billy Elliot"
Wheelock Family Theatre
Through February 26th
  • As young Billy, Seth Judice carries the show. The actor takes his character through a journey of discovery, anguish, doubt and joy that is complex, combining technical proficiency in dance with nuanced acting and singing.
  • Aimee Doherty is her usual wonderful self as Mrs. Wilkerson, the ballet teacher who strikes a spark within Billy when she recognizes his extraordinary potential. Seldom has tough love been so convincingly been portrayed. Think of Miss Hannigan from "Annie" and Mary Poppins, and you will have a sense of the blend of tough and tender that Ms. Doherty brings to this role. She shows some fancy acting footwork in creating this memorable character. Her song "Shine" that she sings with Billy is a highlight.
  • As Billy' Dad, Neil Gustafson also must show a blend of anthracite-hard stubbornness and a malleable willingness to process new information to lead to new ways of thinking. It is a convincing performance.
  • Likewise, Cheryl D. Singleton as Billy's indomitable Grandma stands out. Her rendition of "Grandma's Song" is a delight.
  • The always steady Jared Troilo stands out as Billy's older brother Tony, a coal miner and labor organizer who worries about his peculiar little brother.
  • As Billy's friend Michael, Shane Boucher shows wonderful transparency and vulnerability as an outlier struggling to fit in and to gain acceptance from Billy. 
Seth Judice as Billy Elliot
"Billy Elliot"
Wheelock Family Theatre
Through February 26th
The play must close this Sunday. Come and bring your family and friends.



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