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 Post subject: Re: Reviews - Venice, FL
PostPosted: Thu Dec 08, 2016 5:56 pm 

Joined: Mon Feb 14, 2011 11:54 pm
Posts: 6838
Although it calls itself a community theatre, Venice Theatre executed a four week run of Billy Elliot the Musical that defied that description: the quality of this production was entirely professional. For $31, any seat, any section (all with perfect views of the stage) I was transported back to Easington, ca. 1984, in a production that varied little from the original West End production, and was just as long (nearly three hours).

The theatre accommodates about 500, with several rows in the balcony. Each seat has unobstructed views of the stage. The stage is wide, tall enough for full flight by wire; with a semi-circular apron thrust affording those seated on the front of the theatre a unique vantage point. For moments such as the end of Electricity, this creates a real dramatic effect, as Billy pirouettes and sings his last lines almost among the audience.

The set was so brilliant that I can hardly find the words - not since Ogunquit have I been so enthralled by a set that was both detailed and effective. Three walls were designed to be both the interior of the Miner's Social and the streets of Easington, with brick walls, lit windows and at one point smoke from the chimneys. Stage right had two pull-outs: the loos, and Michael's over-the-top orange bedroom; the rear of the stage had a wide door that served as the main entrance for the ensemble, as well as the mine lift. 18' of stage left could swing out on a rear hinge, to provide the kitchen/bedroom scene that was so large that the kitchen table was permanently there; there was a complete staircase leading to Billy's room, and when in position this set took up at least half the width of the stage. This afforded the chance for several scenes in which Billy could be seen upstairs reacting to what was going on downstairs as he changed, such as the crow bar fight scene: you could watch his reactions as he listened, crept down the stairs, and then caught the fight. I do not think that has been staged anywhere else.

Indeed, the set allowed Billy to slam doors, bang walls and stomp with such abandon that, on several occasions, bits of door frame broke off, and twice the door became jammed shut (on one occasion, Billy had to be helped down by a stage hand; on another, at the start of Angry Dance, he could not enter the bedroom, so he danced on the stairs without missing a beat)!

The orchestra, led by Rebecca Heintz, consisted of eight players, who were positioned in a box above stage left, mic'd through the sound system. The sound was excellent; Rebecca even played a real accordion for Deep Into The Ground. Because of this arrangement, she could see the cast through a video camera, but they could not see her, as the theatre did not have monitors positioned at the rear for cast to follow the MD. This is something Venice Theatre should consider for the future.

Little was cut from the West End production. The choreography (by director Thomas Dewayne Barrett) did not veer far from the Live! dvd version in the big ensemble numbers (Solidarity; Once We Were Kings), and was evident in numbers that were simplified a bit (Electricity; Born to Boogie; Merry Christmas Mrs Thatcher). Dream Ballet was very close to the original, with some of the fastest aerial spins of Billy I have seen. Older Billy Chaz Glunk was a very effective Scottish Dancer, keeping the role poignant without becoming silly. Angry Dance was stripped down to Billy and eight police with shields; this placed a lot of pressure on each Billy to pull this off with powerful tapping and shouting. I think a bit of latticed light (used in other scenes), with strobing during the height of the dance, would have helped - still, both Carson and Patrick carried the day, each time they raged against the world around them. Their adolescent angst was palpable.

The Ballet Girls were very well prepared. Each one seemed comfortable playing their specific character. Of special note (if a scream is a 'note') was Daniela Morales (Alison Summers) whose screams were electric (scores of patrons were seen fiddling to turn down their hearing aids when she let loose. Apparently, she has four different screams in her repertoire!).

Judah Woomert (Michael) really developed his role. It is clear he has a wealth of acting experiences under his belt, including A Christmas Story at Papermill Playhouse. I could see him try different things with his role as Michael. Sadly, the end of ' Expressing Yourself was cut, so he did not have an opportunity to 'play up' for the finale. He would have been in his element, had he been allowed to do that. His younger brother, Asher Woomert, played Small Boy, and delivered perhaps the most painful (in the right sense) 'Jesus' I have heard during press-ups. His delivery of the 'W' insult to George was well timed, and caught the audience's attention.

Bridget Carly Marsh played Debbie with all of the expertise one would expect from a young actress just back from the national tour of Annie. She made Debbie look much younger than the Billys. Her Geordie accent was clear and her timing was just right, allowing the audience time to react.

Peg Harvey (Grandma) was perfection in a nightie. She was not quite as dotty as some I have seen; she presented a very believable portrayal of that role, and sang Grandma's Song beautifully, with staging that followed the London production. Patrick Tancey (Tony) hit all the targets I set for that role: he looks the right age; he has a fierce temper; and he interacts well between Dad and Billy. I think he set the record for dropping the most F-bombs in any Billy production; I must commend the Venice audiences, who took these in good heart.

As George, Rick Phelps did a great job as a wiry, older miner with a big mouth and little patience for 11 year olds. I do not know how he coped with Michael's last punch in every show, which was delivered in an eye-watering manner, right on the 'target'. Alana Opie (Dead Mum) made us smile and cry in equal number. The rest of the ensemble were right on the money. Because Venice Theatre has a student intern program as well as several teen actors, there were enough men to play the miners and police in Solidarity without using female cast.

Laura Bissell (Mrs Wilkinson) may (?) be the first Brit to play the role regionally in the US (Haydn Gwynne played it in Broadway). Hailing originally from Harrogate, she was in tune with the accent and was completely at ease in her role. She looked and danced the part, and gave a warm and convincing portrayal. Matthew M Ryder (Dad) gave a stand-up performance, running the gamut of emotions as he struggled to understand his positions as a miner and as a Dad, as they are altered beyond his control. It became evident that there was a strong emotional connection between Matthew and the two Billys, which became all too evident to the audience in the two Billys' final shows. Matthew is an exceptional singer; his Deep Into the Ground had many in tears.

Mr. Braithwaite (Brian Finnerty) soon became the new rising star of the adult ensemble, to the point that it became clear people were coming to the show a second time just to see him, such was their reaction (he is also well known at Venice Theatre, and is the choreographer for the show that followed BETM). Anyone who has seen Brian Padgett in that role will understand the audience's reaction, right down to the full splits, comic asides with Mrs. W, and rope skipping (both Mr W and the Billys skip). At 23, Brian may be busy playing that role for years to come.

On to the Men of the Match: the Billys:

Patrick Higgins and Carson Maschmeier both hail from the Gulf Coast of Florida. This theatre is lucky in the extreme to have found two such excellent triple-threats, within driving distance, to take on this lead role. For both, it is their first time playing Billy - I believe it is Patrick's first major acting role; Carson has extensive acting experience, including playing Tall/Posh Boy in the Maltz production exactly one year ago. Both boys created Billys that are slightly different, which is a good thing. Both Billys were fantastic, and the audiences were enthralled with each performance. Carson and Patrick had long dreamed about playing Billy Elliot one day, and both fully rose to the occasion. The final shows for each had the audience, as well as the cast, in tears: for once it was not Billy who leaped into his Dad's arms, but Dad who ran across the stage to embrace his 'son' in tears.

So. A four week run. I think about 26 shows in all. An amazing set. A fantastic cast. Two great Billys. A wonderful and friendly venue. Most shows were sold out (it was mentioned in the final week that the show was in profit). If you missed it, you missed something truly special. It was very f****** special!

And this was certainly more than Community Theatre! For just $31 each seat? They should have charged twice that amount!


A post script: I know that Carson and Patrick will probably see this. I had originally intended to write more about their performances, but I decided to keep my words brief. Instead, I will let these words from BETM's lyricist, Lee Hull, written after the first performance in 2005, suffice as a fitting tribute to their accomplishment:

'The triumph of a 12-year-old performing for the first time in front of a paying West End audience moving them to tears, gasping with astonishment at their dancing and receiving a 10-minute standing ovation is a very humbling thing to be part of. It has become more than a job for all of us. However good or bad our work is deemed to be, nothing can detract from how astonishing the kids are. The piece is about the loss of community, identity and a collective politics which inspired generations of people and which was wiped out almost overnight for ideological reasons. But in the bravery, sensitivity and pure glee and energy of the boys I think there is a poignant image that there is hope for our future, that we can achieve extraordinary things if we all put our minds to it, and that we can find it here within our own society if we are willing to dig deep enough for it.'

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