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Reaction Roundup: what the city is saying about last night’s Billy Elliot premiere

Reaction Roundup: what the city is saying about last night’s Billy Elliot premiere

Movies don’t always make the best stage productions (see: 2004’s musical production of When Harry Met Sally, starring Alyson Hannigan and Luke Perry), but the Toronto production of Billy Elliot the Musical seems to be an exception to the rule, just like its London and New York iterations. The cross-genre musical debuted last night at the Canon Theatre under the watchful gaze of Sir Elton John (who wrote the music for the production) and his Canadian husband, David Furnish. So far, Billy has received high praise from Toronto critics, not to mention an impromptu standing ovation from the audience during the second act. Here, we round up what the city is saying about Mirvish Productions’ hot new show.

• Billy Elliot itself holds special significance for Sir Elton John, who told CTV News that he was moved to tears when he first saw the movie a decade ago, identifying with Billy’s determination and passion. “My father never came to see me when I was successful. I understand why he didn’t want me to do what I did because it was the ’50s. I would have loved to have had my dad see me when I was at my peak. But he didn’t and I had to get on with it.” He attributes the Toronto version’s success to updating the show specifically for this production: “Every cast is different. You have to treat every cast as importantly as the first cast that ever did the show.”

• The Toronto Sun’s John Coulbourn was impressed with the expanded back story accompanying the stage production, giving it a solid rating of five stars. “In the world of stage adaptations, this particular one flies in the face of a conventional wisdom that suggests a story has to be pared back for the musical stage. Instead, Hall et al. expand [the] back story—Thatcher vs. the working man—to a point where it almost rivals Billy’s own.”

• Richard Ouzounian of the Toronto Star (four stars out of four) applauds Toronto’s Kate Hennig for her impressive delivery of Mrs. Wilkinson: “Hennig offers a master class in how to act in a musical. Delicious panache, firmly rooted emotions and breathtaking technical expertise all unite in a marvellous performance.”

• The Globe and Mail’s J. Kelly Nestruck (four stars) is less enthused about Sir Elton’s score, calling it unfocused, but assures that “the story is very strong and the dance scenes soar right up into the stratosphere.”

• Eye Weekly’s Christopher Hoile (five stars) writes, “Billy Elliot is that rare modern musical that has the richness of a novel.”

• CBC Radio One host Jian Ghomeshi tweeted his admiration: “Cdn premiere of Billy Elliot musical was outstanding last night.”

• One of the lone unsatisfied voices is Robert Cushman, writing in the Post that “the obvious reason for making the story into a musical is the presence of dancing. It’s also the greatest trap, and the show falls right into it.” He goes on to slag many of the dance numbers, including one which he says “makes no sense of any kind.”

• Critics all seem to agree on the spectacular performance of Cesar Corrales, who played Billy on opening night. Coulbourn writes, “As a dancer, he delivers even the most demanding of Peter Darling’s choreography in flawless terms.” Ouzounian uses the word “dazzling” to describe Corrales’s performance: “He’s standing at the door of manhood, and occasionally he sticks his foot inside to see if he’s ready for the transition yet. He never is, which means his boyish vulnerability remains intact, but the searching gives him an element of danger in every scene.” Even cranky Cushman offers some praise in the Post: “There’s no doubt that Cesar Corrales…is a prodigy.”

• ‘Billy Elliot’ nothing less than a Triumph [Globe and Mail] • Billy Elliot goes through the well-choregraphed motions [National Post] • All hail King Billy [Toronto Sun] • Opening night: Billy Elliot earns resounding cheers [Toronto Star] • Dance skills take centre stage at Billy Elliot opening [Globe and Mail] • Billy Elliot The Musical [Eye Weekly]

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