Image by Yossi Tzivkar
It’s been seen by 10 million people worldwide, since its creation in 2005, but has Billy Elliot retained its magic now that the show has come to Israel? Here’s our review:
Big shows coming to Israel tend to get big audiences, but all too often the standard gets lowered once the production is exported here. That is completely not the case with Billy Elliot – the charm, heart and level of the show – both technically and in the casting, mostly competes with what you would see on Broadway or in London’s West End. Billy Elliot is terrific – magnificently staged and beautifully realized. It’s a joy to watch.
The Israeli venue is Cinema City in Gelilot – right in the center of the country. What you may not know, is that in addition to the many halls showing movies, there is now a new purpose-built theater which more than copes with the demands of putting on a show like this. Billy Elliot is a 12 million shekel production and its venue is comfortable, spacious and yet intimate enough to keep you feeling close to the action and the actors.
The cast is excellent. You may recognize Avi Kushner, who plays Billy’s father, a widowed, striking coal-miner who reconciles himself to the idea of his ballet-dancing son. Oshri Cohen, who plays Tony, Billy’s brother is also a familiar face on Israeli TV, much-loved in “HaShir Shelanu / Our Song”. Dafna Dekel takes on the part of Mrs Wilkinson, Billy’s teacher, memorably played in the movie by Julie Walters and Dena Dorron, is fun as Billy’s forgetful grandma. In fact, one of the few Israeli changes to the show is that Grandma is searching for her pashdida (boreka) in one scene, instead of a bacon sandwich.
Image by Yossi Tzivkar
The role of Billy is surely one of the most challenging parts for a child out there, with a high level of dancing and performing in most scenes. The Israeli Billy’s are Arnon Herring (who performed at our showing) and Shaun Granot Silberstein, and they more than hold their own on stage.
The sets and costumes really evoke Britain in the mid-1980s and the songs and set pieces transfer well and are true to the original stage production. The emotional story of Billy realizing his dream while still mourning his late mother all hit home.
The show is in Hebrew. If you have mid-level Hebrew and you have seen the movie or the show in English or high-level Hebrew, you’ll enjoy this.
Is it for the kids too? Well, there were plenty of children in the audience with us but parents are advised that there is – like in the English version – some strong language. Kids may also find it hard to understand the setting of Britain during the Margaret Thatcher years and I would advise telling your children a bit about the history to help them get a better understanding before watching the show. However, while most children may not know much about coal-mining, the idea of a “shvita” (strike) will be all-too-familiar to Israeli children. Topics like the cross-dressing of Billy’s friend, Michael, who realizes he is gay are sensitively handled. As their characters would have done in reality, most of the actors chain-smoke their way through the show although an announcement prior to the opening informs the audience that these aren’t real cigarettes. We’d say that kids over the age of 9 would appreciate most of the story.
And, in a nice touch, if all the dancing makes you want to throw on a tutu – there’s a photo opportunity for you to do just that. Did I? Of course I did!