THE CAST of the Israeli production of ‘Billy Elliot’.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZVAKER)
Coal miners and Margaret Thatcher are a combustible combination, but throw in a few tutus and you’ve got the plot of a fun new musical hitting Tel Aviv this summer: Billy Elliot.
The play tells the story of Billy Elliot, a young boy growing up in a coal-mining town in northern England who discovers a love for dance. The backdrop for Elliot’s wrangling with ideas of self-expression, masculinity and family duty is the 1984-1985 coal miners’ strike, and disagreements between his older brother and widower father, both coal miners, on how to respond.
Eleven years after the musical, with songs by Elton John, premiered on London’s West End, based on the 2000 film, a star-studded cast will put on its first Hebrew production.
Two Eurovision veterans play Billy’s father and mother-figure, dance instructor Mrs. Wilkinson: Avi Kushnir, a stage veteran and cast member on the legendary ‘90s sketch comedy TV show Zehu Zeh, and singer-actress Daphna Dekel. Teen heartthrob (from Telenovella Hashir Shelanu) turned serious actor (from award-winning Lebanon War film Beaufort) Oshri Cohen plays Billy’s brother, and Broadway (Diary of Anne Frank) veteran Dina Doron plays Billy’s grandmother.
But the real star of the show is Billy, or really, Billys, since the title character will be depicted by two teens: Arnon Herring, 13, and Shaun Zilberstein Granot, 15.
The talented young boys put on their dancing shoes for an open rehearsal for the press last week, showing a key moment in the plot when Billy auditions for the Royal Ballet School in London, twirling and flipping like pros.
In another scene, Dekel sang to her class of adorable girls in tutus about how art, or specifically dance, can change their lives, or at the very least make them a bit brighter. Meanwhile, Billy, seeing a dance class for the first time, wove in an out between the girls, trying to get Dekel’s attention, and Herring showed a keen sense of comic timing, while Dekel sang the amusing and inspiring lyrics.
Director Eldar Groisman tried to tie in the messages of the play, set in the ’80s, to Israel in 2016, lamenting “climbing rates of poverty and unemployment to alarming proportions” and calling Billy an example of how “individualism and curiosity always threaten the hungry collective.”
“Through this universal story, we learn that we must create and encourage a society made up of individuals who think, are open and curious,” he added.
Groisman’s thinly-veiled criticism of the current government fits well with the play, in which Margaret Thatcher, while not a character, is the villain and the subject of a song celebrating that every day that passes is one day closer to her death.
(Thatcher died in 2013.) Even if the play’s politics are not your cup of tea, it’s worth watching, since, despite the director’s message, it really is mostly about a sweet teenage boy who loves to dance.
The Israeli production of Billy Elliot, which premieres in July in City Hall, Cinema City Ramat Hasharon’s new theater, looks like it’s set to be as big of a hit as it was in New York and London.
Tickets go on sale today for El Al Matmid members and Fly Card holders, and for the general public on Tuesday.For more info and tickets visit www.billyelliot.co.il.