(Hedy Weiss’s article appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, 4/17.)
Something absolutely wonderful can happen when a hit musical is finally liberated from its original Broadway incarnation — no matter how beguiling the original might have been.
As proof you need only witness the astonishingly beautiful, emotionally devastating production that opened Thursday night at the Drury Lane Theatre, where director-choreographer Rachel Rockwell has grabbed hold of Elton John and Lee Hall’s “Billy Elliot” and not only generated a surge of electricity palpable throughout the audience, but probed the very deepest recesses of the show’s enormous heart.
Yes, this show was a natural for Rockwell, who possesses a unique gift for working with children (and “Billy Elliot” puts an enormous weight on tiny shoulders), who began her career as a dancer-choreographer (this show is an ode to the way dance, and all the arts, can be a life-changing force), and who has a flair for making historical references in a musical (in this case, the traumatic British miners’ strike of the mid-1980s, during the era of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) come to vivid life. And her production, the first regional edition of the musical — which features an altogether remarkable cast led by 14-year old Nicholas Dantes, an actor, dancer and singer whose performance is shattering on many levels — should now become the standard by which all future versions are measured.