It takes most theater companies years (and years) to reap the kind of success that the fledgling City Springs Theatre had already achieved even before the curtain went up on its first show (just last fall): private and corporate fund-raising support to the tune of some $2 million; a fabulous new space, the 1,070-seat Byers Theatre at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center; more than 4,200 season ticket subscribers; and nearly sold-out runs for a proposed inaugural lineup including five lavish, Broadway-scale musical productions.
Simply amazing, if not exactly surprising, with executive artistic director Brandt Blocker at the helm — after all, he previously worked similar wonders during his tenure at Atlanta Lyric (2007-2016), which grew by leaps and bounds under his guidance, creatively as well as fiscally. And that’s to say nothing of the added name recognition of Tony-winning actor (and Marietta native) Shuler Hensley, on board as City Springs’ associate artistic director.
On the heels of September’s “42nd Street,” December’s “Elf” and March’s “South Pacific” comes Blocker’s thoroughly arresting City Springs staging of “Billy Elliot” (continuing through Sunday). What a pleasure it is to report the show lives up to all of that advance hoopla so fully and resoundingly, with Blocker and company essentially putting their proverbial money where their collective mouths are by crafting such a dynamic piece of musical theater.
Adapted by Lee Hall (who also wrote Theatrical Outfit’s recent, and equally wonderful, “The Pitmen Painters”) from his screenplay for the popular 2000 movie of the same name, “Billy Elliot” incorporates a score of memorable music (by the one-and-only Sir Elton John, with lyrics by Hall) to tell the ultimately uplifting story of a young British boy who discovers a passion for ballet in the unlikeliest of places — in the downtrodden working-class community of County Durham circa 1985, among coal miners embroiled in a bitter, increasingly violent labor strike.
Hall’s script walks a finely tuned line between the grim realities of that environment and Billy’s fanciful “lark” about escaping to London to study at the Royal Ballet. It’s superbly embellished by John’s songs, a beautifully balanced mix of mournful ballads, rousing anthems and spectacular feel-good numbers. And Blocker does a highly impressive job of visually delineating the stark contrasts therein, with a masterful assist from lighting designer Mike Wood.
Elsewhere behind the scenes: the elaborate scenery is designed by Campbell Baird; dialect coach Cara Reid deserves credit for all the authentic accents; the uncommonly complex but admirably accomplished choreography is by Cindy Mora Reiser, with a nod to Lauren Brooke Tatum for a few flashy tap-dancing routines; and music director Judy Cole fronts the company’s skilled nine-member orchestra.
As performed by an invigorating cast of more than 30 singers, dancers and actors, the musical highlights are plentiful, including the stirring ensemble numbers “The Stars Look Down,” “Solidarity,” and especially the penultimate “Once We Were Kings.”
But many less expansive or more intimate moments are just as captivating. Billy’s heartfelt solo “Electricity” is powerfully delivered by Liam Redford (a practiced young veteran of several earlier productions of the show around the country). “Expressing Yourself” is a totally delightful duet with his cross-dressing best friend (an adorable Seth Black-Diamond). In a “Swan Lake” fantasy sequence, Billy dances with an older version of himself (Luke Badura).
Pamela Gold has never been greater than she is here as Mrs. Wilkinson, the dance teacher who inspires Billy to pursue his dream. She leads her class in the amusing “Shine,” as well as Billy and her pianist (Rob Ouellette) in the boisterous “Born to Boogie.” By far the most touching moments belong to the lovely Bethany Irby as Billy’s dearly departed Mum, who appears to him to sing a couple of recurring refrains of “The Letter.”
Blocker’s uniformly fine cast also features Drew McVety (as Billy’s disapproving father), Haden Rider (as his volatile brother) and Karen Howell (as his dotty grandmother).
An ambitious undertaking remarkably realized, “Billy Elliot” confirms City Springs as an undeniable force to be reckoned with — gladly.
Through May 12. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. $30-$62. Byers Theater (at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center), 1 Galambos Way, Sandy Springs. 770-206-2022. www.cityspringstheatre.com.
Bottom line: A sensational success.
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