The musical Billy Elliot opened in Toronto the other night, with its composer, Sir Elton, in attendance. The Globe loved it. The Post didn’t. But great or whatever, it’s liable to hang around Toronto for as long as it has London and New York, because this is the ultimate big-city musical.
In the following 2009 post, in the wake of its Tony Award wins, we considered Billy Elliot‘s contribution to “the metropolitan myth.”
By Frank Moher
Best Tony Awards telecast in years last night. (You did watch, didn’t you? I’m not the only Canadian who watches the Tony Awards, am I? I am? Thought so.)
That said, allow me to gripe about Billy Elliot, which danced away with 10 awards, including Best Musical. Actually, my gripe is with the original movie, which I loved until the final 10 minutes, when I realized its message was going to be, “If you’re talented, your destiny lies in London (or New York, or Los Angeles, or fill-in-the-glittering-metropolis-of-your-choice). Unlucky enough to have been born elsewhere? Leave that burg in the dust.”
Not that this is a new idea; I believe it forms the basis of approximately 25% of movies made in the 1940s. (Cut to heroine standing on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. HEROINE: “I’m gonna make you mine, New York!!!”) But what never occurs to the keepers of the metropolitan myth is that if the talented stuck around the burg in which they find themselves and opened, say, a dancing school or a publishing house or a jazz club or whatever, their burg would suddenly be a lot less burg-y. Yes, I know Li’l Billy, being eight or whatever, didn’t have the option of opening a dancing school. But wouldn’t it have been something if he realized he could dance and remain a part of his community? Something other than the same old big city jive?
I haven’t seen the musical version, so who knows? — maybe they’ve changed the ending so Billy sticks around and marries the gay kid who adores him and eventually starts up a dance crew that goes on “Britain’s Got Talent” and beats Susan Boyle. But somehow I doubt it. What’s particularly risible about the movie and, by the looks of that production number on the Tonys last night, the musical too, is Billy Elliot‘s pretend social conscience. It beats up on Margaret Thatcher for bleeding Billy’s coal-mining town dry, before going on to propose that it be further etiolated through the loss of its brightest young people.
What, asks Billy Elliot, could be more natural? But what, ask I, could be more Thatcherite than the notion that the talented have no obligation to anybody but themselves?