Billy Elliot Taps a Rich Vein of Triumphant British Defeatism

HER DANCE CLASS is a Geordie version of A Chorus Line with its podgy tiny tots and schoolgirl no-hopers who provide the show with a good deal of its fun. “Jetés!” Mrs. Wilkinson shouts to one and all, taking a drag on a ciggy. “That’s it, girls! So our tawdry little lives are transformed by the power of art!”

Mr. Daldry’s stagecraft seamlessly blends the dance class sequences with Peter Darling’s finely choreographed miners’ scenes. When it comes to ensemble tap-dancing, however, the British preference for game amateurs who keep going isn’t all it could be in the city of Savion Glover.

The key role of Billy is shared on alternate nights between three performers, and at the performance I saw, the young Cuban-American David Alvarez deservedly stole the show. Master Alvarez is a born romantic dancer with a lived-in face who, more than incidentally, speaks with a perfect Geordie accent. (Admirably, everyone else does, too.) His dance sequence with Billy’s cross-dressing school pal Michael (played by Frank Dolce on my night) in Elton John’s vaudevillian celebration of camp, “Expressing Yourself,” is a riot (though the showstopping number could do without the giant dancing frocks that belong more to Disney).

Mr. John’s score promises to lift off—but how one longs for a “Rocket Man”! Apart from more typically generic Elton John numbers (“Born to Boogie,” or the superior “Electricity”), the score is somewhat dutifully inspired by North Country hymnals, folk songs, the traditional brass band music of the collieries and rousing protest songs of communal suffering and togetherness like the miners’ earnest farewell, “Once We Were Kings.”

This is a musical that uses—to point out one of its more manipulatively sentimental devices—visitations from Billy’s dead mother to induce salty, salty tears. At the show’s close, when Billy is en route to the Royal Ballet School in London, he reads his mother a letter in song: “And please mammy/ Know that I will always be/ Proud to have known you.”

Let it be said that it was enough to leave audience members around me in puddles. And that by then—thank goodness!—I was long since sold on Billy Elliot.

jheilpern@observer.com

Billy Elliot Taps a Rich Vein of Triumphant British Defeatism