…and no, it’s not a Hurricane Irene power failure (since there weren’t really any of those), but yesterday, as tears were shed around the globe, Billy Elliot closed on Broadway after a run of three years. To anyone whom I may have recommended the show, I apologize for perhaps inflating it by calling it “the best show ever” (although the New York Post agrees with me, as evidenced by the elephantine billboard that has blazoned above the entrance to the Imperial Theater for the last three years), but I must say I stand by that comment. With its moving story, flawless direction by Stephen Daldry, and touchingly personal score by Elton John, it remains one of two shows in my theater-viewing experience to strike me so hard that I was barely able to control my emotions and compose myself during intermission (eliciting a visceral response know to most as crying). The other was August: Osage County, but that was because I was laughing so hard (I don’t know what it is about an elderly pill addict who insults her family through horrendous verbal tirade that just makes me giggle).
There’s something seriously wrong with the world—not that anyone really needs to be told that—if a show like Billy Elliot is closing while a production as vapid and asinine as Mamma Mia! is still chugging away (I like to think of Mamma Mia! as a necklace a grade school girl might make during the craft session of summer camp, where the songs are brightly colored cheap plastic beads haphazardly strung together with the elastic string that is the plot to create the illusion of continuity, when in reality the final product is just tacky). Three years is a healthy, profitable run, and this is of course not intentionally a blatant attack on Mamma Mia! individually (it is fun after all, despite the bulky, middle-aged bodies in spandex bell-bottoms), but rather its representation of shows that are commercial hits and perennially set attendance records, but…let’s say leave more to be desired. Billy failed in Chicago playing to WNBA-sized audiences and closing five months early, though for that, blame deservedly goes to the management who has done little right since divorcing and evicting Wicked early in 2009 after a commercially successful marriage. Looking at the carnival of what constitutes source material these days, a limited number of masterpieces hit the Broadway stage, so it’s sad to see one fade into the shadows.
It’s an oddly magnetic show because it doesn’t feel directly relatable. Sure, everyone has a dream but maybe not the emotional or financial support to pursue it, but the broader social, political, and economic factors at play in Billy’s Durham County render the situation realistic as an Oscar-nominated screenplay rather than real life (how often does a riot break out in your front yard, unless of course you live near the happenings of the Arab Spring?). Perhaps it’s because he’s only 12 years old, and childhood tends to evoke a certain sympathy. But I hate kids, and in today’s modern parenting where an iPhone is an acceptable Christmas present for a 6-year-old who cannot yet read, I prefer to see kids not getting what they want (they do, after all, fawn over Justin Bieber types who are symptomatic of the demise of quality entertainment as we know it). Whatever is so captivating about Billy—the overcoming of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the persistently fervent emotional drive, the exaggerated parody of Maggie Thatcher politics, or perhaps an Edgar Degas tutu fetish—dance on! That’s an order coming from someone who actually owns tap shoes.
Suggested wine pairing: Not to condone underage drinking amongst cross-dressing 12-year-olds (even though they do it anyway leading to Swan Lake dream sequences), but let’s go easy on this one with a wine cooler. Some may call it a gateway beverage started at grade school graduation parties, but the miners lost the strike, so let’s give them something…other than ten Tony Awards.