First, I don’t know if I’ve made it eminently clear, but I’m not exactly made of money. I was supposed to take my mom to see a production of A Raisin in the Sun here in NJ but it already ended. On a whim we decided just to show up in Times Square and hit the Tkts Kiosk in the hopes of grabbing some last minute tickets for cheap. I’d never done it before, but a quick check on the Net before I left this morning had me worried about 2 hour lines and having to pay in cash.
It was nothing like that. There was maybe one group in front of us, and a giant list of shows to pick from. My mom had heard good things about Billy Elliot, so I swallowed my disinterest and away we went with our fantastic tickets (center Front Mezzanine—not orchestra but still a great view) for half price and only a half-hour to kill before the show. Nice.
Why the disinterest? I adore plays, but I’m always going to look for that emotional oomph. I want to be moved—to laughter, to tears, it doesn’t matter, just as long as I’m feeling something. A great play can do that better than any other forum; the immediacy of seeing the drama right in front of you makes it feel so real. A good actor will take me through the emotional gauntlet, if that’s what the story calls for; and there you have my initial apathy. What emotions can a dancing kid wring from a 32-year-old woman?
As it turns out, plenty.
I’ll keep it simple (so, probably a tad vague). It’s set in a mining town in the middle of a strike in the UK under Margaret Thatcher, so this blue-collar little town tries to band together and weather tough, scary times. At the center is a small family: grandmother, father, two sons and the ghost of a beloved and too-soon lost mother. The family dynamics are incredibly realistic and easy to relate with: the anger, fears, frustrations, and love between them. Yet you also get some hilarious characters, (Billy’s grandmother and his best friend, Michael, are complete scene-stealers), and even entire numbers that had the audience laughing throughout. The writing is really strong, with a few different messages you can take home, including the obvious “Be Yourself” with some pretty good arguments to back it up. The dancing is incredible, which is to be expected from Broadway, but it’s the emotion behind the dancing that really gets to me. Check out Billy’s “Angry Dance” just before intermission and find out how to project rage via ballet and tap. For our production, the actor who played Billy was Jacob Clemente and he is frightfully talented. Any kid in this role would have to have crazy skills and crazier stamina. Plus absolutely no fear of heights. But I’ll stop there—no hints!
The entire cast was brilliant down to the chorus, each line delivered perfectly, each movement divine. Without giving anything away, I can say with confidence that you will get swept up in the story. I cried twice, laughed a lot, and helped give Jacob a standing-O. For those of you who have seen the movie (I haven’t), my mom assures me that the play is an entirely different experience, and a far better one at that.
There are a lot of moments that moved me, and part of me feels like going into detail. Maybe I’ll change my mind and revamp this entire post, really dig deep. For now, it’s 1 a.m. and I spent the day packed like a sardine into Times Square, so I’ll happily stay in the shallow end.
If I actually hoped to accomplish anything with this post, it would be for someone with tastes like mine to realize that a play doesn’t need a love story to engage your heart. It just needs a great story to be told in a phenomenal way—in this case, a story about a dancing kid.