‘Billy Elliot’ soars: Paramount’s 4-star revival a spectacle in every respect

Paramount Theatre’s production of “Billy Elliot The Musical” is a spectacle in every sense of the word: From set designer Michelle Lilly’s magnificently forbidding mine shaft, whose murky interior comes courtesy of lighting designer Greg Hofmann, to Isaiah Silvia-Chandley’s lean, balletic-athletic choreography to the muscular sound of the Paramount chorus and music director Kory Danielson’s nine-member orchestra.

Set against the 1984-1985 British mine workers strike (a failed attempt to preserve an industry privatization subsequently doomed), Elton John and Lee Hall’s coming-of-age musical is not a fairy tale, duck-into-swan transformation notwithstanding. Rooted in the notion that art can uplift and inspire, transform an individual and unite a community, “Billy Elliot” is the sort of grand, Broadway-style show that helped make Aurora’s Paramount the country’s leading subscription-based theater.

Ron E. Rains, center left, plays Billy Elliot's dad and Spencer Davis Milford plays Billy's brother Tony in Paramount Theatre's revival of “Billy Elliot The Musical,” which unfolds against Great Britain's 1984-1985 coal miners' strike. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

But what is truly spectacular about director Trent Stork’s stellar revival is Neo Del Corral, the remarkable young dancer/actor/singer who shares the titular role with Sam Duncan. At the performance I attended, Del Corral played the working-class boy from a hardscrabble Northern England mining town who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. Del Corral (who starred in two previous “Billy Elliot” productions) effortlessly channels prepubescent frustration. There is nothing precocious about Del Corral’s vulnerable, guileless performance. His Billy is very much a kid, one still grieving his dead mum (a nicely maternal Jennie Sophia) whose spirit offers comfort father Jack (Ron E. Rains) and older brother Tony (Spencer Davis Milford) fail to provide, preoccupied as they are with an increasingly violent labor strike and struggling with their own unresolved grief.

Billy (Neo Del Corral), right, finds comfort by conjuring his late mum (Jennie Sophia) in “Billy Elliot The Musical,” running through March 24 at Aurora's Paramount Theatre. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Rains and Milford are terrific. Rains, who played Jack in Drury Lane Theatre’s 2015 production, delivers a deliberate, perfectly limned performance as a father learning to accept his son. Everything about it feels authentic.

The same is true of Milford’s resolute Tony who is not so much a firebrand as a tradesman, watching helplessly as his legacy disappears and he becomes irrelevant.

The always entertaining Barbara E. Robertson plays Billy’s pleasantly addled grandmother, who shares his love for dance but cannot be the surrogate mother he so desperately needs. That role falls to Mrs. Wilkinson (played with gruff affection by Michelle Aravena, a true dynamo), the tough-talking, chain-smoking ballet teacher who recognizes Billy’s potential and points him toward his future.

Recognizing his potential, ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson (Michelle Aravena), right, and accompanist Mr. Braithwaite (Dakota Hughes) offer Billy (Neo Del Corral), center, additional instruction in “Billy Elliot The Musical” at Paramount Theatre. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Equally encouraging is Billy’s sweetly snarky, cross-dressing pal Michael, played by Gabriel Lafazan, an impish actor/dancer with a megawatt smile. His taptastic “Expressing Yourself” duet with Del Corral is one of several comical numbers with a serious message about acceptance and self-determination. For instance, the euphoric, playfully choreographed “Born to Boogie” — featuring Aravena, Del Corral and the dexterous Dakota Hughes as dance class accompanist Mr. Braithwaite — is about embracing the rhythm within. In the amusing “Shine,” Mrs. Wilkinson encourages her modestly talented students to use what they have to dazzle when they can.

Billy (Sam Duncan), right, and his pal Michael (Gabriel Lafazan) express themselves in Paramount Theatre's “Billy Elliot The Musical.” Duncan shares the role with Neo Del Corral. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

When it comes to “Billy Elliot’s” outsize production numbers, Stork and the creative team deliver. The anthemic “Solidarity,” juxtaposing ferocious confrontations between striking miners and police officers with a little girls’ ballet lessons, and the propulsive “Angry Dance,” Silvia-Chandley’s expertly conceived examination of Billy’s internal torment, are visceral, visually stunning displays.

But the musical’s most profound moments are its quietest: the lovely letter trio of Billy, Mum and Mrs. Wilkinson and the heartfelt “Electricity” in which Billy describes what dance means to him.

But for my money, “Billy Elliot’s” most poignant moment is the gorgeously choreographed, exquisitely danced pas de deux between Del Corral’s Billy and his older self, played by Christopher Kelly, to the music from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” An ode to artistic expression, it is an achingly beautiful moment.

The exquisite pas de deux between young Billy (Sam Duncan), aloft, and his older self (Christopher Kelly) is among the most moving moments in Paramount Theatre's spectacular revival of “Billy Elliot The Musical.” Courtesy of Liz Lauren

As Billy soars, rays of light reminiscent of the headlamps attached to miners’ helmets pierce the darkness, guiding him on his way.

• • •

“Billy Elliot The Musical”

4 stars

Location: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, (630) 896-6666 or

Showtimes: 1:30 and 7 p.m. Wednesday; 7 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday through March 24

Tickets: $28-$79

Running time: About 2 hours 45 minutes, with intermission

Rating: For teens and older; includes adult language, some violence

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