originally posted for www.billyelliottheforum.me.uk AND www.friendsofbilly.com
Wednesday March 31st, 2010
Billy: Michael Dameski
Michael: Jake Evan Schwencke
This was my 13th time seeing the show and the end is not only not in sight, it's not ever going to happen. I will see this show as often as my wallet allows for as long as I possibly can. If I die before the show stops running, I will be in Heaven watching the show every "day".
My guest this past week was my friend Christian from Germany. He and I met through a Billy Elliot MOVIE fan group over 8 years ago and have been online friends since. This was our FIRST TIME meeting ever (our first time like ya know) and we spent the week seeing NYC together. On Wednesday the 31st, we saw Billy Elliot The Musical together on his birthday (his first but not last time seeing it). We spent much of his week in New York quoting lines from the movie to each other in as authentic an accent as we could (even though English is his second language, he did even better than me!) and after he saw the musical, we both added lines from that to our dialogue as well. By the time I dropped him to the airport on Saturday afternoon, I was overcome with emotion and couldn't even speak I was so sad to be letting him go again. As I drove away, I sobbed uncontrollably, wiping away tears so that I could avoid hitting cars. The next day I apologized online for being such a BFW, one of the phrases we quoted to each other from the movie. To give you a hint, it's what Tony calls Dad as Billy runs back to say goodbye to Michael. =)
This was my first time seeing Michael Dameski and Jake Evan Schwencke (still need to see Liam, Dayton, Alex and Jacob). I loved them both! Such different characterizations of each part than I've seen from anyone else! And it's been about 9 months since I've seen a short version of Billy, so that was a nice change too. =)
Before I go on, I have to say how special it felt even from thousands of miles away, to be seeing Billy Elliot performed in the Imperial on Wednesday at 2 PM while at the same time across the pond such a special show was underway at the Mother Church! I felt the connection and the solidarity in the air at The Imperial. And while I'd have chosen to be at the Victoria Palace Theatre if I could have, Wednesday's show at The Imperial was the second best place on Earth that day!
The day BEFORE the show, on Tuesday the 30th, I had brought Christian into the city despite the rain so I could show him some of the sights like Times Square. Monday was a total washout and his luggage which should have come with him from Germany to Dublin to New York had been sent on to Boston after he changed planes in Dublin. If the luggage was across the ocean in Dublin, he would have gotten it back by Monday evening. But because it was just a few hours away, he would not get it back until Tuesday via FedEx to my house on Long Island. And I'm only a short 15-minute drive from JFK too! Don't even try to figure that one out! Anyway, Monday he was wearing some of my partner Andy's clothes because they have a somewhat similarly svelt shape (ST5X) and so by Tuesday when his luggage arrived, it was time to just start seeing NYC, even if it was rainy. We couldn't decide on a good Italian place so we settled for Olive Garden, which I assured him was not authentic but is usually tasty. Side note to this side note: He'd never seen one of those light-up vibrating discs that restaurants give you to hold to let you know when your table is ready. Despite Germany's technological and economic superiority in many ways, that one hasn't crossed over. I think it's just because they're more sophisticated and more patient than we are in America. =) I'm sorry, my digressions are digressing...
At the bar at Olive Garden, the bartender asked the woman to my left what brought her to New York and Times Square. She told him she's a university teacher from Dallas and while her students were in meetings for some conference in town, she was trying to see a few shows. I asked her which shows, of course hoping she'd mention Billy, but she didn't. But she was seeing West Side Story and A Little Night Music, so I didn't slight her. She mentioned another too but I can't remember the name. I said, "Not Billy Elliot?" and she smiled and said no, not this trip unfortunately. I told her my story of how Christian and I met back in 2002 online because of the movie and how now we'd finally met in person and would be seeing the show together for his first time and my 13th. She was delighted for us and was interested in my take on the show and why I keep going back.
I mustered up something like, "Well, I don't know, it's just a very charmed show, there's just something extra special about it. Part of it of course is the dancing and the choreography, especially since Billy keeps getting better as the show goes on. I think any show that has the main actor performing better and better throughout as they learn how to do something makes for a really great show and Billy does this too. I mean in the beginning he's stumbling over onto the floor but by the end--wow!" I'm sure my facial expressions, the glint in my eyes and my smile gave away my love for the show too. I encouraged her to see it, to somehow squeeze it in before her trip ended, and assured her that she can get discounted partial view orchestra seats that would still be a great enough view. I don't know if she ended up going but I hope she sees it at some point.
The next day before the show began, a woman sat down in front of us with her father and her son. She asked me at one point how long the show would go for and I told her about 3 hours all total but worth every minute of it. "Have you seen it before?" You can all tell how the rest of that conversation went as you've had the same one (or soon will).
Michael Dameski's Billy is a little angrier than I usually prefer, but not in any way out of character for Billy. He may not smile often or for very long, but he portrays Billy as a tough kid from a tough town during a tough economic time. Michael's Billy is dark but in an exciting way. Theatre patrons come to see a show about a kid who dances, and the darker side of Billy only enhances the overall effect the show has on the audience. Somehow seeing a tough kid from a mining town in northern England overcome obstacles and secretly take ballet lessons is more evocative an experience than just seeing some boy from the suburbs do the same.
Michael speaks very clearly and his brooding temperament and angry-young-man movements are always in sync with his dialogue, whether through a simple "ow" or an earth-shattering scream. Speaking of screams...
I can't go on any further without just jumping to his Angry Dance. If decorum were not expected and composure was available, the appropriate response after witnessing Michael Dameski's Angry Dance could be put this way:
You're just sitting there in your seat breathless to begin with but then not just a little scared by the end too. Not only has he completely captivated you with his movements, he has shook you to the core of your being with the longest scream you can imagine to end the number. You don't even want to clap or cheer because he is still in the moment and has screamed not just at the police or at life but at you as well. And as he stands up and brushes himself off he glares at you with such anger and disgust, even pausing to walk away but looking back at you still. Finally, ultimately, breathlessly, you come to your senses and begin to applaud and cheer with shock at what has just happened before you and what has just happened to you.
Okay. Regroup, Sean, you've got more to write.
As the lights came up for intermission, the woman in front of me turned back around and said, "You weren't kidding!" Her father told me that his other daughter was working with Elton John right now on a project, I think some animated movie but I'm not sure. They were all very impressed with the show.
Jake Evan Schwencke. Even his name points to the personality behind him. An adult in a child's body, Jake has a "knowing" you wish you had. He just looks soooooooooo comfortable on stage that you don't even think twice about whether he knows his part inside and out. There's an elvish impishness to his face that is just adorable and his eyes sparkle with a universe-understanding knowledge you can't quite put your finger on but again, wish you had as well. His Michael is more confident than some others not by example of craziness but in the quietly confident way he presents his character on stage. Where some might add a "c'mon" to Billy to move him along like when he tells him to look in the mirror, Jake just smiles and waves him over and you just feel that he not only owns the stage but owns Billy as well. He's the type of actor, it seems, that might be difficult to act with because you're always seeing your friend Jake smiling at you and not just the character that your character is acting with.
When they put on their tap shoes for Express, the boys seemed like Jake had beat Michael for the very first time. I have no idea if this is true or not, but Jake seemed absolutely thrilled with himself and I thought I heard him say, "first time!" with a really big smile. =) Very cute. Later on after Electricity when they're in the soup kitchen, Jake gives Michael D. some of his soup with a smiley look that can only be described as absolutely precious. =) Shows such a loving adoration he has for his friend Billy.
Back to Michael and his Electricity. His dancing is spectacular, really incredible and you can tell he's been with the show for a long time already between Australia and the U.S. His timing is great, his moves are varied and, well, electric, and he is wonderful to watch perform. One other man and I gave him a standing ovation after it and others may have joined too although it didn't seem like anyone in front or left or right of me did. Michael stayed in end pose but looked over at me when I stood and though part of me felt like he was breaking character, it also gave me a huge rush of feeling like I was part of the show...as if Billy had gotten one of the judges to stand and applaud too. =) And it reminded me of times in live theatre when others have given a standing ovation when I did not. I have often been too shy to give a standing ovation but am as often very appreciative that the stars are getting one from someone else. Still, he very much deserved it and I was happy to help. At show's end when Michael stood in front of the BILLY sign, the entire audience stood as one to give him a huge ovation. He is a wonderful Billy and if you see him perform you will love him!
When Jake came out for his final bow at the curtain call/encore, I gave out a big whoooo for him. The woman in front of me turned at that point and said, "He was great!" She said it in a way that made me feel like she wanted me to tell him for her. It's funny that people think I have connections when it's the furthest thing from the truth. =)
As we left the theater, a random 70-something year-old woman smiled at me and I asked her if she enjoyed the show. "I loved it!" she beamed. I told her it was my 13th time seeing the show and she grabbed her husband's arm and pointed to me. "He's seen the show 13 times!" He smiled at me and said, "I can see why, it was fantastic!"
Christian loved the show too, by the way, although he's more of a thinker type and not an emotions-driven guy like me, so he said he needed to process it all. He's seen Billy Elliot the movie more than any other, and though he originally saw it in German, he's since only watched it in English. He quotes the movie with perfect accents and really loves the story. So seeing the musical finally has brought him back to square one. He said he feels like he knows the movie so well and the musical is just different enough to really make him step back and go wow. He's not ready to gush yet but assured me he really loved it.
Christian is also not a big theatre goer but after we got home later that day, he was asking me if there was a soundtrack he could buy and if there were any video clips of the show so he could see parts of it again. When I did show him some scenes at home and another Billy (TK who I love) was in the video, he told me after that he preferred "our Billy" as in Michael Dameski. So I feel like I've done my job well enough. ;-)
Thank you for reading about some of the magic Billy's story has brought to my life in the past 10 years, thanks to Michael Dameski for being an AMAZING star and for the entire cast and company of Billy Elliot around the world for giving us such an inspiration to witness on stage. And thanks to Christian, my newest off-line friend from Germany, for joining me for an awesome week in New York!
Sean Patrick Brennan
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
originally posted for www.billyelliottheforum.me.uk AND www.friendsofbilly.com