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'Billy Elliot' review: Little ballet dancer flies

Billy was born to dance. "Mum" might have foreseen his destiny, but she died when he was a little boy. Dad, a coal miner who thinks dance is for girls and gays, is distracted by a strike.

The success of The Gateway's Long Island premiere of "Billy Elliot," a best-musical Tony and Olivier award winner on opposite shores of the Atlantic rests on the slender shoulders and nimble feet of a boy who can pass for 11. Mitchell Tobin, a gangly teen with the baby face of a tween, alternates in the demanding role with 12-year-old Brandon Ranalli, a season 6 "America's Got Talent" semifinalist. Tobin, who played Billy in London and on national tour, performed with disarming grace on opening night.

A crisp three hours as directed by Steven Minning, "Billy" takes place in a northeast England mining region at the height of Margaret Thatcher's power. It's 1984 and the prime minister is determined to break the mineworkers union. A way of life is at stake. Billy's brother, Tony, and their father are on strike, along with virtually every working man in the gritty town of Durham (appropriately dingy sets and lighting by Campbell Baird and Doug Harry). Dad pays for boxing lessons to keep Billy out of after-school mischief. When his coach asks him to give the keys to the gym to a dance instructor who shares the space, Billy gets his first glimpse of ballet (rhymes with valley as pronounced in Durham). Billy soon turns in his boxing gloves for ballet slippers.

Janet Dickinson as the wisecracking dance teacher convinces us of her good intentions in encouraging Billy to audition for the Royal Ballet School. Craig Bennett is both gruff and good-hearted as Billy's stressed dad, while Brandyn Day as Tony reflects the hothead faction of the anti-Thatcher miners.

Accompanied by Colin Welford's orchestra to Elton John's music, Patti Perkins as Grandma reveals that dance is in Billy's blood, singing of her woeful marriage in which the only bright moments occurred on the dance floor with her late husband. Ethan Eisenberg as Billy's cross-dressing pal (costumes by Dustin Cross) almost steals the show with comic relief from violent confrontations between strikers and coppers (percussive choreography by Alison Levenberg).

But it's Billy's dreamlike "balley" sequence, enhanced by Peter Pan-like maneuvers, that truly steals the show.

Gateway's "Billy Elliot" soars -- literally and figuratively.

WHAT "Billy Elliot," by Lee Hall and Elton John

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 28; 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 29, Thursday, July 30 and Wednesday, Aug. 5; 8 p.m. Friday, July 31 and Aug. 7 and Tuesday, Aug. 4; 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1 and Aug. 8; 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 2, through Aug. 8, Patchogue Theatre, 71 E. Main St.

TICKETS $54-$89; 631-286-1133,

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