J.P. Viernes as Billy Elliott Soars; Tigers Be Still is Fresh and Funny

by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave on July 1, 2011

J.P. Viernes (Billy Elliott) is Remarkable

Billy Elliott the musical brings to the stage a captivating story that is a non-stop thrill ride. It’s unlike anything you’ve seen before. And that’s a good thing. Although there is humor (sometimes dark), the show is deeply moving. The classic performers delight in the magic of each scene. There is not one bad actor in the show. You got it … this is a spellbinder of a show that will keep you thinking about it, for many, many years. I found myself enraptured.

The action starts out in a small England mining town. The only industry in the town is the “Coal Mines.” They hate it – but they have to work. They are not singing “That Old Black Magic” – but they could be thinking “I’ve got you under my Nails” – (Coal). Hey, but “What a difference a Day Makes” when Billy Elliot goes from Boxing lessons to Ballet shoes. His Dad thinks he might turn into a “Poof” – and firmly disapproves of dancing on your toes. Billy literally might be singing in his head “Fly me to the Moon”. And, he actually fly’s way above the stage, in a miraculous, sumptuous dance (with a male partner).

The musical score by Elton John brings in memories of “Les Miz” and “A Chorus Line” (Police line up— like they are at an audition.) But it’s the “Les Miz” type music that stirs up deep emotions.

A fun time between Billy and a friend is when Billy discovers that his little Buddy is a cross-dresser. Billy asks: “Are you a poof?”

Some of the powerful musical pieces that I really enjoyed are: “The Stars Look Down” in an amazing opening. I also found “He Could Be a Star” – could and will touch your heart. “The Letter” as Billy reads, and his dead mother sings it – breaks the heart that you just touched. “Electricity”, is well – ELECTRIC.

J.P. Viernes is a local young man (Half Moon Bay). In one scene he does daredevil hi-wire dancing in the air. If that doesn’t take your breath away, then nothing will. This musical is certainly a compelling and riveting show that has an authentic atmosphere with fascinating characters. Especially outstanding and fantastic, is Faith Prince as Mrs. Wilkenson. She deserves to be put at the top of the “Best Actress List!”

This true Gem is bound to sell out. Not only is the cast compelling and extraordinary – the show is technically impressive.

AT THE ORPHEUM THEATRE: http://www.shnsf.com/

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and Produced and Hosted a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))

Melissa Quine and Jeremy Kahn talk about his mothers shoes in the closet in “Tigers Be Still”. Photo: Jessica Palopoli.


“Tigers” is a funny look at how people act when they are under stress. And, there is a lot of stress in this comedy drama. Yes, it’s very amusing, there is an underlying theme of ‘everyone in this play’ needs therapy. And there is the therapist (Sherry), that teaches at the school where the principal was once the King of the Prom – and her Mom was the Queen.

Which brings me to this. We never see the Therapists Mom. Seems that she is just too obese, to get out of bed these days. She won’t even let her two daughters see her, even though one of her daughters portends to be a Therapist.

Fascinating is the Teen-age boy who is taking Art Therapy from 24-year old Sherry. These people are a bunch of nut cases. Funny ones, indeed. The young man (Zack) really pulls off being a not very happy Teen. But are there ever any happy teens? No! – Would be the answer. He has Ghosts that swirl around in his mind. His Mom (Died), his Dad now confronts him with taking Therapy. During one of the sessions with Sherry, the Therapist says to Zack: – “I need you!” Zack says to her: “You need me? The last thing I need is a needy therapist!” As it turns out, he ends up needing her, and wants to up the ante. Some sweet moments follow.

The Gross out moments swirl around the blubbery sister of the Therapist. She is a total train wreck. She drinks and drops all kinds of junk on the floor and calls up her boyfriend several times a day. He dumped her for someone else. All she ever gets from the Ex, is a message. In other words – he’s not interested. If anyone needs therapy, it would be her. She’s a boozehound – and a messy one at that. She kidnaps her ex-boyfriends dogs and locks them in the basement, hoping that he will come by to retrieve them. In her drunken stupor, she forgets to feed them. Funny maybe for a few minutes, but not for long.

“Tigers” is often hilarious. There’s infectious humor going on, wrapped up in pathos and intensity. You wouldn’t want to invite friends over for a party. Too much Angst in this household.

THE ACTORS: Jeremy Kahn (Zack) – Best Male Lead. You’ll fall in love with his innocence. Melissa Quine (Sherry) is “Rapturous and Remarkable.” Remi Sandri as Principal Joseph is marvelous. Rebecca Schweitzer as the Booze swilling Sister is explosively good. And the Direction by Amy Glazer gives us something to savor. As usual “Bill English blesses us with another wiz bang set. Total summation is – “It’s funny…sexy…and surprisingly sweet!”

One more thing. The escaped “Tiger” – It was never found.

AT THE SF PLAYHOUSE ON SUTTER NEAR POWELL: http://www.sfplayhouse.org/


(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and Produced and Hosted a long running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))


The Photo of Lee Hartgrave Boy Reporter is by Jim Ferreira – Film Noir & Hollywood Glamour. www.lafterhall.com.

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Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave is a longtime theater critic in the San Francisco Bay Area. His reviews appear each Friday in Beyond Chron.

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