Everyone loves the idea of being true to oneself, no matter the naysayers. And everyone loves an underdog.
So it's easy to root for the character of Billy Elliot — a young boy from a rough-and-tumble British mining town caught up in the economic turmoil of the early 1980s when all he wants to do is dance.
It's not so easy, though, to root for the musical adaptation of the heartwarming 2000 film of the same name. Lee Hall's book creates a meandering and repetitious show that clocks in at almost three hours long. Elton John's music is by and large forgettable, although many numbers work within the context of the visuals on stage.
It's those visuals that provide the highlights of the production: Billy's exuberant dance in "Electricity," a clever use of shadows in Rick Fisher's lighting design, a touching, dreamlike pas de deux between young Billy and his older self.
The role of Billy is shared by four actors; on opening night, Kylend Hetherington gave the title character an appealing softer edge than sometimes seen but found aggression in his dancing.
In a standout, tear-jerking scene, Billy shares a letter that his mom wrote to him before her death with his chain-smoking, sharp-tongued dance teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (Leah Hocking).
Both Hocking and Cynthia Darlow, as Billy's addled grandmother, shine in the humorous aspects of their characterizations. But the underlying feeling of being trapped by their circumstances — as opposed to Billy's escape through dance — is muted.
As Billy's brother Tony, Cullen R. Titmas hits more emotional notes, reacting with fury to his younger sibling's dreams while showing that under the rage is jealousy and disappointment over his own bleak future.
Tony's future is bleak because he, like the brothers' dad and virtually every working man in their town, is a coal miner. Margaret Thatcher, then British prime minister, had threatened to close the mines, prompting a union-led strike. You don't have to understand 30-year-oldU.K.politics to appreciate this framework — when the townspeople mock Thatcher, just imagine any politician you oppose and you'll see the humor.
There are, however, definitely some lost-in-translation bits — references to a "fortnight in Majorca" (a popular British vacation spot) or a joke about being born in Leeds don't register in the same way here. And the northern English "Geordie" accents can get in the way of comprehension.
Maybe in this age of layoffs and downsizing, we've grown numb to the plight of a ragtag band of coal miners from another time and place. Luckily, the thrill of dancing and dreaming remains universal.
• What: A Broadway Across America tour of 'Billy Elliot,' presented by Florida Theatrical Association
• Length: 2:55 including intermission
• Where: Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, 401 W. Livingston St., Orlando
• When: 8 p.m. today-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
• Tickets: $35.50-$80.50
• Call: 407-246-4262
• Online: BroadwayOrlando.com