Based on the beloved film and winner of 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical, BillyElliot: The Musical Live from London's West End is a celebration of one of the world'smost popular and successful stage shows. A modern-day fairy tale of a young boy whoexchanges boxing gloves for ballet shoes, Billy's story is set during the 1980's miner'sstrike in northern England, where his determination inspires an entire community. Fromthe creative team behind the original film and music legend Elton John, this story ofself-discovery, determination, love and hope is brought to life in this funny, uplifting andspectacular experience that you'll want to experience again and again!
The stage has seen a lot of talented writers and actors and songwriters come and go over the years. From the amazing works of Shakespeare to the grand and elaborate Ziegfeld Follies, crowds have longed for the wonderful and arresting entertainment that only a stage show can provide. There's something far more intimate about seeing a live show than even a film experience can capture. A live show offers the opportunity for a unique experience - even if it's a popular Broadway headliner with a popular songbook - the experience you see sitting in those theater seats is a singular event and won't be the same experience the next time you see it. So when a popular show is filmed and shown in theaters or on television, the audience has an opportunity to see the show but they miss out on experiencing the raw effect of seeing it in the theater. 'Billy Elliot The Musical Live' may well be an adaptation of a popular film and hit show on the stage, but filmed for home video the transition loses a lot of the magic.
The original film 'Billy Elliot' directed by Roger Daldry and scripted by Lee Hall tells the inspiring, heartfelt, and hilarious story of a boy named Billy from Northern England who comes from a rough working class family. His coal miner father wants him to man up and take sports like Boxing and well Boxing. When the chance to take ballet exposes Billy's true talents as a dancer, Billy will have to shrug off cultural gender expectations in order to achieve his own goals in life and prepare for an audition for the Royal Ballet. Set against the backdrop of the 1984 coal mine strikes against the Thatcher administration, the film is a warm-hearted but tough look at life in working class England as well as how things have changed over the years and the shift in societal conventions. 'Billy Elliot' was a sleeper hit in 2000 and was nominated for three Academy awards including Best Screenplay and Best Director and was also nominated for Best Motion Picture Drama at the Golden Globes. In the last 15 years, the film as grown from being that simple movie about a little boy ballet dancer and has become a well-regarded treasure.
When the news broke that the film was going to be made into a stage production directed by Stephen Daldry with music by Elton John and a book and lyrics by original screenplay writer Lee Hall, there was an understandable amount of skepticism but also excitement because the film itself had a certain stage show-like quality to it that was tough to ignore. When the show premiered it was a huge hit with audiences lining up around the block to sold out shows. In addition to dominating the box office, the musical adaptation went on to win 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical. The show is a smash and audiences are still lining up to see it today. Now the ability to get a glimpse at the show has been made easier with this Blu-ray release of 'Billy Elliot The Musical Live.'
As far as stage musicals are concerned, the tunes are catchy and the performances are lively and fun, however, stage shows simply do not translate well to small screens. This has been an issue ever since Laurence Olivier filmed a half film / half stage show of William Shakespeare's 'Henry V.' You can't just film a live stage performance and expect it to have the same visceral and exciting impact on an audience. At least for me these sorts of filmed shows never grab my attention as they're intended and sadly 'Billy Elliot The Musical Live' suffers from a lack of immediacy and intimacy that seeing the stage show in person would have granted. While I will commend the film crew assigned to this one and give them a lot of credit for doing their best to capture every moment, this video version of the show still feels hollow and lifeless for me.
My issues with these kinds of home video productions goes back over twenty years. When I was ten years old I got to see both 'The Phantom of the Opera' and 'Cats' on the stage in London. Those experiences are some of the best I have ever had in a lifetime of going to see plays and live performances. Around the time that I saw those two shows in person, I also had the opportunity to see them filmed and broadcasted on PBS. While it was fun to dip a toe back into those memorable waters, the experience just wasn't the same. Something about being able to skip over a song or directly to your favorite moments feels disingenuous towards the intended experience. 'Billy Elliot The Musical Live' is certainly a fun watch and as I mentioned previously, these songs are damn catchy, but a lot of the impact is lost in translation.
I will openly admit that I have not yet seen Billy Elliot The Musical in a true live theater setting. I've wanted to if for no other reason than to experience a familiar story retold in a new format. If a traveling road show comes through town or if I happen to be in an area where it's currently playing I will have a tough time not grabbing tickets for my wife and I. However, if you've yet to experience the musical, I wouldn't recommend 'Billy Elliot The Musical Live' as an introduction. If you've already seen the show and are an ardent fan, this Blu-ray release should be a welcome addition to your library of titles simply so you can hear the songs all over again. This release really is for the fans.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Billy Elliot The Musical Live' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Universal Home Video and is pressed on a BD50 disc. Housed in a standard case, this disc also comes with a Digital HD voucher for either Ultraviolet or iTunes.
It may not be the show in person, but this splendidly detailed and richly colorful 2.20:1 1080p transfer does a great job at capturing all of the visual splendor of the show. Because this performance was filmed with a live audience in the theater, cameras had to be strategically placed so as to be able to capture everything that was happening on stage at various angles while also not interrupting the main show. Because of those filming restrictions, the image quality can shift from great to just okay depending on the camera setup. The cameras assigned to capture wide shots of the entire stage fair the best, but mids and close ups suffer some softness and loss of depth. Taken as a whole the transfer does a great job at replicating the dazzling colors on display and provides plenty of pop from the primaries, especially blues. Black levels are pretty stable and don't show any signs of crush, but because of the filming conditions they never get truly inky. There is some slight banding here and there, but that is the worst of it. All around this is a very pleasing visual presentation of the show but it doesn't quite capture the essence.
'Billy Elliot The Musical Live' shoes some slick moves with a strong DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track. Given that each cast member was miked to capture their singing, the track stays lively and fun and constantly keeps the surrounds engaged, the sides more than the rears. Because this is a musical, I am pleased to report that you should have no trouble hearing and enjoying your favorite tunes from the show. Everything from the vocals to the accompanying music has plenty of life and presence to them and sounds rich and natural. Imaging is okay, there really isn't much channel movement to speak of since this show is presented as if you were out there in the audience so much of the key sound elements stays to the front channels. Levels are set just right and as the show switches gears from a rousing song to a conversation and back to a fun tune, you shouldn't have to adjust your volume in any way to account for the audio shift. A fine track that is a great listen.
Introduction from Elliott Hanna: (HD 5:37) Leading star Elliott Hanna shows off the stage of the Victoria Palace Theater and the show crew talking about working with him on his first stage show he's ever been in.
Behind The Curtain: (HD 11:06) This is an interesting look at how the project developed from the big screen to the stage and how Elton John was a fan from the first screening he'd ever seen. It's brief, but it's a better than average behind the scenes sort of featurette.
'Billy Elliot The Musical Live' does a decent job trying to capture all of the majesty and energy that comes from a performance of the hit stage show, but it lacks the immediacy and charisma of that experience. If you were a fan of the show you should be very happy with this release if all you're looking for is a means to recapture some great memories or hear some infectious tunes all over again. However, if you're new to the production and haven't seen it yet, I would say wait until you've come home from seeing a true live performance before picking this one up. The A/V presentation is pretty solid for a filmed stage performance along with a couple of extra features makes this Blu-ray release of 'Billy Elliot The Musical Live' one for the fans. It's hard to recommend a blind buy, even if you were a fan of the original film.