Review: 'Billy Elliot The Musical' by Landmark Community Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic

Thomaston, CT - ‘Billy Elliot The Musical’ is the story of a motherless young boy named Billy, who trades boxing gloves for ballet shoes. The story of his personal struggle to do so takes place during the strife of a miner’s strike in England in the 1980s. Landmark Community Theatre opened their production of this musical that features a book and lyrics by Lee Hall and music by Sir Elton John this weekend. Katherine Ray directed the multi-aged cast and also designed the lovely set; she summarizes the story as one of “love, acceptance and unity” that does not require the technically difficult bells and whistles to “create a truly magical theatre experience.” 

I found Billy’s story and that of his working class family and community to be engrossing; the juxtaposition of the gritty mine workers and the lyrical ballet dancers worked well. The music also worked well, even if it wasn’t particularly memorable. My favorite numbers included the company’s “Solidarity” and “Grandma’s Song” that involved Billy, Billy’s grandmother and a piece of dancing by Cailtin Barra (the show’s dance captain) and Jake Finch that told her story. 

Amy LeBlanc convincingly portrayed Billy’s (dead) mum via video. Mr. Finch also danced the lyrical choreography of Jerri Kansas beautifully in the role of the adult Billy. 

The striking workers included Daniel Wagoner as George the boxing coach and Steven Taliaferro as Big Davey. Jake Finch, Chris Gilbert, Marc Crawford Leavitt, Collin Larson, Allen Marko, Matt Monitto and the ubiquitous Cole Sutton. The female ensemble Ms. Barra and Jodi Tryzna, in addition to the younger ballet girls, played by Jillian Alena, Allison Coney, Olivia Cotter, Kati Seppa and Yumeko Stern as Debbie.

All of the adults turned in very strong performances. Eve VanSyckle was a standout in the role of Grandma. Thomas Netter made the most of the role of the ballet school’s pianist in his LCT debut. It was great to see Suzanne Powers in another memorable role as Mrs. Wilkinson, the ballet teacher who sees the potential in Billy. Shawn Wodraska did well in his community theatre debut as the older brother of Billy and the booming voice of Joe Harding played well as Billy struggling father. Mr. Harding made clear his character’s arc and also did some very funny ad libbing when the curtain refused to fully close. 

Now can we talk about the Waterbury Arts Magnet School students? Eric Canfield, who will enter eighth grade at WAMS, was in their outstanding production of ‘Grand Hotel.’ Here he played Billy’s cross-dressing friend with aplomb and lots of talent. Rising seventh grade WAMS student Cailee Harvey, who played a ballet girl, has performed in the 1214 Foundation productions of ‘Liberty Smith,’ “The Lion King’ and ‘101 Dalmatians.’ Sophia Dadamo, another rising eighth grader at WAMS and another Grand Hotel cast member, did well as a ballet girl.

Her brother Vincent, who will begin his sophomore year in high school at WAMS and played Erik in ‘Grand Hotel,’ began the show with a solo and was a strong member of the male ensemble. 

Billy himself was played to perfection by Charlie Pelletier, who will move up to eighth grade at WAMS in the fall. His strong acting skills were evident as he played the title character and his dancing was equally as impressive. Congratulations to all of these talented WAMS students who represented their school well in this production in Thomaston. 

Jeffrey Dunn was the producer and Michael Berkeley, who was artistic director for many years at  (TriArts) Sharon Playhouse, served as musical director/conductor. The nine-piece orchestra was seated backstage and did well with the varied score. Jerri Kansas, a Musicals at Richter director/choreographer, did some fine work as the show’s choreographer. Taryn Glasser, who one usually finds at the Warner Theatre, gets the credit for some fine projections. The sometimes tricky costumes were designed by partners Renee Purdy and Aurora Montenero.

Jim Luurtsema produced the video and designed the sound. Matt Delong did the fine lighting design.

On opening night, LCT honored Kelley Hutton with a Volunteer Spotlight Award for her work as volunteer coordinator, resident stage manager for their teen drama program, and stage managing many other LCT production. At the first matinee, which was an almost full house, Juan Cardona entertained the audience on the pipe organ with many selections from the 1980s. 

This was another outstanding production by Landmark Community Theatre that is definitely worth the trip to Thomaston. ‘Billy Elliot’ runs at the Thomaston Opera House through July 24.