BILLY ELLIOT — A high flying hit at the Orpheum

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Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Chances are, there’s going to be a whole lot more boys entering Dance School this coming season. It’s been a long time since a big guns Musical or Ziegfeld Follies-type review or Vaudeville demanded extra-ordinary dancing talents of young boys, one of them being the Lead Role. And never with the spotlight on a boy whose soul longs for the world of Classical ballet. Stories like that just don’t get told. And it’s easy to figure out why. Billy Elliot the Musical pushes every one of those “let’s not talk about it” issues right up to the footlights and shouts it out to the last row. The production has been awarded 73 national and international awards including ten Tony Awards, Best Musical by the New York Drama Critics Circle, Drama Desk, Drama League and Outer Critics Circle. The cast of this national tour is across-the-boards superb. The story is completely compelling, the music by Elton John is fabulously matched to the setting and to the familiar characters of the popular 2000 film. The musical is way-longer than the movie. The pacing and reaction time needs tightening and the thick accents coupled with the Orpheum’s acoustics are often troublesome. But J.P. Viernes as “Billy” at Tuesday night’s opening was on his game and delivered a 5-star performance. This kid has got IT.
Click here to purchase tickets on-line: BILLY ELLIOT

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J.P. Viernes. Photo, Joan Marcus

Beloved Broadway star Faith Prince is ideal as the local fast-talking, doesn’t take any crap from anybody, jaded and somewhat faded teacher of ballet, “Mrs. Wilkinson”. With her radiant and sultry charm, La Prince is a hard-driving drill instructor to her Ballet girls while steamrolling over the phobic nerves of Billy’s square shouldered coal miner father, “Jackie”, played by Rich Hebert. Mr. Elliot is furious that his son is not at his boxing lessons but handing over his “50 Ps” to pirouette with a gaggle of girls in tutus rehearsing at his gymnasium. What will everybody think? He knows what his fellow-miners and drinking buddies will say. His son’s a POOF!

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Faith Prince, Daniel Russell (as “Billy”), and the ballet girls


Photo, Kyle Froman

Young Griffin Birney as “Michael”, Billy’s best friend, also turned in some spectacular hoofing. Griffin is a classic showman in the tap dancing department. His character is likewise an enthusiastic exhibitionist in the women’s dress department. He knows an A-line from the F-Line and how to mix & match. For Michael, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. His coal miner father also enjoys his reflection in a silky frock.

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JEFF KREADY (Tony) and RICH HEBERT (Jackie)

Jeff Kready is Billy’s older brother “Tony”. He is a violent part of the desperate coal mining crew who are on strike and protesting the policies of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative Party. Kready is completely convincing in his aggressive attack against Billy’s dreams of a career in Ballet, even after the father has accepted his younger son’s special gifts. Kready embodies the dread of defeat and sense of hopelessness for himself, the other miners, and the future of his community. But Tony relents when the miners chip-in the money Billy will need to escape the hardships of home and to shine in London at the Royal Ballet School.

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Lex Ishimoto and Maximilien A. Baud
Photo, Michael Brosilow

In the film, the grown-up Billy is cast as the lead swan in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake– a genius re-telling of the ballet featuring an all male bevy of swans. For the musical, Peter Darling – who grabbed the 2009 Tony Award for “Best Choreography” – includes a magical pas de deux for the young and grown-up Billy. Set to Tchaikovsky’s familiar theme of the Black Swan, J.P. Viernes and lead dancer Maximilien A. Baud were mesmerizing in this transcendent duet which included high-flying aerials.

MEET J.P. VIERNES

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J.P., age 15, is a native of the Bay Area is from Half Moon Bay, CA. National Tour: Billy Elliot (Chicago/Toronto). Regional: South Pacific (Coastal Rep). JP began dancing at age seven with Shely Pack Dancers and danced two years with City Ballet SF. Recipient: CHRP JUBA award for Billy Elliot.

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.


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    [...] Have answers!MARY GIBBONEY – An Interview with the star of “ABSOLUTELY SAN FRANCISCO”“BILLY ELLIOT” – A high flying hit at the OrpheumHEIDI MELTON – An Interview with “Sieglinde” in San Francisco Opera’s DIE WALKÜRE, [...]