Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 17, 1891 when Bishop Lawrence S. McMahon dedicated St. Bernard Church, Enfield.
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From left, Kiril Kulish, David Alvarez and Trent Kowalik. Click here to enlarge. (Photo by Carol Rosegg)

NEW YORK – "Billy Elliot" is a phenomenon. The British musical, which opened at Broadway's Imperial Theater last month in an uproar of acclamation, is a big, shrewd combination of pure theatrical artistry and unadulterated music-hall hokum. It is actor- proof, fool-proof, critic-proof and all around irresistible.

In London, it has already run for three years. On Broadway, its cast is all-American except for a single actor who was imported from the London cast. Also on Broadway, because of the arduousness of the leading role, three boys alternate as Billy; it will probably run right through the 21st century till the army of boys playing Billy are all ancient dodderers.

A clever Englishman, Lee Hall, created this miracle first as the 2000 film, which he has now adapted for the musical stage. He has also supplied the lyrics for Elton John’s musical score. Mr. Hall's stage version sticks pretty close to his screenplay about an 11-year-old boy growing up motherless in a bleak northern English circa 1984 mining town, where most of the miners are all on strike against then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's opposition to state-owned industry. Serendipitously, he lands in Mrs. Wilkinson’s ballet class and finds a new life for himself.

Mr. John's score is acceptable but ordinary, supplying a variety of theatrical songs that keep the show moving along at a rapid pace. The show's creators are admirably served by a director of genius, Stephen Daldry, who also directed the film. He worked closely with choreographer Peter Darling to seamlessly integrate the dramatic story of the miners' plight and the more lyrical world of classical ballet. None of the effects is subtle but, in a strange way, by the creators' craftily using every trick in the theatrical handbook, they succeed. Mr. Daldry also has wisely surrounded the youthful cast with seasoned musical theater performers like Gregory Jbara (as Billy's dad), Carole Shelley (as his grandmother), Santino Fontana (as his older brother), and the sole Brit in the class, actress Haydn Gwynne (as Billy's unforgettable teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson).

Of course, all of this would be for naught if it weren't for the right Billy. On the night I attended, Billy was played by a 13- year-old prodigy from San Diego Kiril Kulish. A tall young man with a dancer's build, great grave eyes and the shy, naive personality of an adolescent, he is a triple threat performer who can act, sing and dance. He was so honest in his performance that I was immediately captivated, moved and disarmed by his talent.

For as good as young Mr. Kulish is in a couple of show-stopping dance numbers – the solo "Angry Dance" in Act One, and a dream "Swan Lake" sequence in Act Two – he also shines in the musical's quieter moments, when he is allowed to be just a kid and hang out with his closest chum, Michael. (I saw Frank Dolce as one the two alternating Michaels.) They have a great time cutting loose with an old fashioned song-and-dance routine, "Expressing Yourself."

The physical production by Ian MacNeil is spectacular. He is able to show the dourness of the strike-plagued town – shabby homes, meeting halls and streets  – in contrast to the richness of London's elegant ballet world. He is greatly helped by the witty period costumes of Nicky Gillibrand and the dazzling lighting of Rick Fisher.

But, of course, Billy – in this case, Kiril Kulish – s the real wonder of this touching new British musical; he gives the show the lift that makes it a hit.

Theatergoers should be advised that, because of the striking miner' subject matter, "Billy Elliot" contains some strong language.

Bernard Carragher lives in New York and covers the arts and entertainment.


alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.