Our theater critic, Elaine Liner, thought Billy Elliot The Musical was a blast. Set against the backdrop of the 1984 British National Union of Mineworkers strike, the story of a miners' son who defies his dad by taking ballet lessons and preparing for an audition with a prestigious dance academy was a hit with the audience on opening night.
I figured my kids, 13-year-old daughter Iris and particularly 9-year-old son Lyle, would enjoy it as well.
Now, if you're wondering what kind of 9-year-old boy would enjoy a musical about a ballet dancer, I understand. I would have wondered the same thing a few years ago. But since even before he could walk, Lyle has loved dancing, and so we finally enrolled him in dance classes at Studios on the Edge after we moved to Oak Cliff.
I wouldn't go so far as to say he's a real-life Billy Elliot, as he had the support of both parents -- but in my case, it was perhaps more reluctant than I'd like to admit, as much as I like to think of myself as a progressive, open-minded man. So I could at least sympathize with Billy's dad, who is shocked that his boy gives up boxing for what he perceives as a sissy pursuit. I figured Lyle would identify strongly with a character who pursues his dancing passion in spite of the mockery of others from his town.
Turns out, notsamuch. But he and his sister still thought it was, in their words, "awesome." Even if Lyle's critical eye spotted a possible slip-up.
Check out their post-show impressions, and a conversation with a father of a different sort, after the jump.
So what did you think of the show? Lyle: I thought it was amazing. Because there was a lot of great dancing and acting and they did good performing. Out of 10 stars, I would give it 10 million. Iris: I loved it. It was amazing. Lyle: Hey! That's what I said. Iris: Because every single thing they did, they did it perfectly. The only thing was that I was a little confused about who his dad sometimes because I thought Billy [played last night by Ethan Fuller] sometimes called that other guy ["Tony," played by Jeff Kready] Dad. But I'm not one to say what I didn't like. I just liked the whole thing. But if I were to say one thing, it would be that.
What did you think of the story? Lyle: Hmm... Story...
You know, the plot. That he wanted to dance and his dad didn't want him to. Lyle: Oh! I thought it was interesting that they put it inside a musical. Iris: I liked it a lot. I liked how he went against the odds. Everyone thought he'd be good at boxing. And even though everyone thought he was really girly, he kept at it.
Lyle, could you relate to it? Was it anything like your dance classes? Lyle: Not really. Some was, but not much.
Did you relate to him being a boy and dancing when people think that's for girls? Lyle: It did not feel similar to me, but it had some things that were a little similar but not totally.
Do you ever feel awkward or embarrassed about your dancing, like how Billy didn't want his dad to know? Lyle: No. I'm proud and I like it.
What was your favorite part? Lyle: The screaming part ["Angry Dance"]. He did a lot of loud music and kept screaming. I like loud music and it makes me feel good.
What did you think of the boy who played Billy? Lyle: Awesome. Iris: He was really talented. I really liked his voice, and really liked his dancing. Lyle: I saw him trip once. Iris: Lyle! Lyle: I'm just kidding. But I really did. When he was screaming. Iris: Shut up! You couldn't do one fourth of that. Lyle: It was when he was spinning, he went [demonstrates with a pratfall after slamming himself into a wall].
You don't think that was part of the choreography? Lyle: Maybe.
Mixmaster caught up with Rich Hebert, who plays Billy Elliot's dad, before yesterday's show. Hebert, a Bostonian with an Northeastern accent nothing like the working-class British accent he employs in the musical, had just taken in the Mavericks victory parade and was still high on the emotion of watching his Bruins win the Stanley Cup the night before. We were curious about how working with five different boys alternating in the role of Billy affects the show, and about what it's like to break that old showbiz adage warning against working with kids or animals.
How does working with so many different kids rotating in the role affect the chemistry of the show? It's great for me, because each one of them is different, each one of them brings something different, especially in the audition scene. Each kid brings his own take on that dance. They only have their own signature mark on that. One of the boys, Lex [Ishimoto], brings sort of a hip-hop style and integrates that into the ballet. Each kid has something that they're stronger at. That's a place where I have to discover how good my kid is. Each time I have to discover that, and it keeps me honest.
Also there's a point at the end, where we're unfolding clothes with Billy for him to go away, and there's a very different connection with each kid on what we're talking about. The audience doesn't hear us, but what we're talking about is their future and the folding of the clothes.
There's the old showbiz cliche not to work with kids or animals. What's it like working in a show so dependent on kids? Had you done that before in your career? I've done Warbucks twice in Annie, so I've worked with both of them. And in Les Mis, and a musical version of Captains Courageous where it was just me and a kid most of the time.
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There's so much to be gained from it, and we have an incredible group of kids. There's like 20 of them on the road with us, and there's absolutely no problems. They bring a wonderment and vitality, and you learn all about life through their eyes. I have a 5-year-old daughter, and if you have kids you understand, but you just learn so much from them. You learn a lot about acting from them, about the wonderment of it and to be appreciative of it. On stage there will be really funny things, where they're not picking up on the laugh, or they don't understand the beat. But they bring an honesty to it. I'm working with a lot of young actors on television series and things, and watching them learn it during that time was amazing. I like it a lot. I could do shows with kids from now until the end.
I love doing Annie. You have to cast the right kid for that part. She has to light up and give energy to everyone around her, but the little girl has no idea how much energy she gives to the rest of the cast.
Who's the actor who will be playing Billy tonight? I have no idea. [Laughs] When I get backstage, when I get at "Places," that's usually when I discover who's going to be my son that night. We usually hug and exchange whatever they're into, whatever they like. One of them was really into the band Styx, and a friend of mine is the lead singer, so I introduced him to Dennis [DeYoung] when we were in Denver, the last city. So we'll talk about Styx, or this or that. One of the kids was into anime, one is into sports. So I connect with them at that level.
So that's what, an hour before showtime? Oh no, that's about a minute before showtime.