“Billy Elliott.” Loved the movie, and had the opportunity to enjoy the musical at the Orpheum Theatre this weekend with my dear friend Dan LoBuono, in town from NYC. It’s a beautiful story that translates well to the stage, although the mega-mix that is supposed to serve as the curtain call destroys the evening. You’ve suspended your disbelief for just shy of three hours and invested in the characters, only to have those precious moments of reflection stolen from you immediately following the final scene by a rambunctious production number that completely takes you out of the moment. Poorly executed, and such a shame. The actors — and the audience — are working far too hard to have that moment ripped away.
But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about adolescent angst and dreams. And this show is just the vehicle to inspire such discussion. During the show, I was transported back to that adolescent moment of my own life when I knew I wanted — no, HAD — to perform. I was 14 years old, watching my brother Bruce perform in a Robert Redford Sundance Summer Theater production of “Starting Here, Starting Now.” I was beside myself. I was near tears. My entire body was screaming to be on that stage, doing what he was doing. I absolutely felt the music, the rhythm, the audience — all of it — flowing through my veins. I ran down that mountain knowing exactly what the rest of my life was going to be about. And watching the teen actor playing Billy on the stage brought all of those wonderfully vital feelings back into my body like it was yesterday.
Flashback to my life in NYC, performing and taking acting classes… One of my teachers would force me to “dance my scenes.” She knew me, and knew I wouldn’t connect with the script until I had improvised and danced my way through every line. She was right. And it freed me. Completely freed me up from any inhibitions and discovery throughout the creative process. And this was an acting class. God love her intuition and commitment to each individual student. She got me. And she let me breathe.
Fast forward to sitting in the St. Paul Ordway theater earlier this week watching “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” It’s been around for years, and finding a fresh approach to this show is a tough call, especially when it requires the use of children in the ensemble so that they are integral but not over the top. This production found a way to make it work, and is definitely entertaining, though not extraordinary. But what was extraordinary was one of the boys in the ensemble. Yes, painfully adolescent, he was a little on the chunky side (you knew he’d grow into it) and a bit awkward when just standing or sitting (my gaydar and Dan’s gaydar were both pinging off the charts). But that kid came to LIFE during the curtain call production number. I watched him absolutely living that choreography, just right of center behind the narrator. The choreographer clearly understood, too. This boy’s entire body was full of light! He hit every accent and nailed every count with crispness. His face was alive, animated and angelic. He even added a few little touches of his own to the number that he simply could not hold back. Dan and I simultaneously found each other’s arms and squeezed. We were both right there with him. It was one of the most adorable and telling moments of the performance for me. That kid was having his own Sundance Summer Theater moment. He was exactly where he should be — in the moment and in complete synchronicity with his body, his mind and his dreams. It was beautiful, painfully adolescent, and, well… just perfect.