'Camp' Billy Elliot musical hits wrong note in America

But Billy Elliot the Musical has failed to make such a positive impact on the other side of the Atlantic. The New Yorker magazine has launched a scathing attack on the Elton John show, describing it as "mawkish", "repetitive" and "camp".

The verdict of John Lahr, the senior theatre critic for New York's most influential magazine, could damage the musical's chances of a transfer to Broadway.

In a two-page denunciation of the show, Lahr, who has written 17 books on theatre, dismisses Billy Elliot as being riddled with "narrative vulgarities", "thematic bankruptcy" and general "sloppiness".

His verdict clashes not only with critics' praise for the £5m production based on the British film, but also the iconic status the show has gained among gay theatre-goers, who love the chorus line of coal miners dressed in tutus.

Lahr, on the other hand, says that the cross-dressing number that Billy performs with a young, gay friend is no more than "homophobic fun".

He writes that Stephen Daldry, the director, Lee Hall, the writer, and Peter Darling, the choreographer, are "novices", but instead of the expected recipe for disaster, he finds the performance a "recipe for a muddle masquerading as a major event".

Lahr, the son of the actor Bert Lahr, is bemused by ads for the musical carrying a quote from Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph describing Billy Elliot as: "The greatest British musical I have ever seen."

He wonders aloud what on earth constitutes a great British musical. "Salad Days? The Boy Friend? Cats?" he asks. "The British love musicals," he writes. "They just don't do them very well. The jazz of American optimism ... is somehow alien to the ironic British spirit."

Whereas the American musical is the expression of a land of plenty, England is a land of scarcity - "the Land of No". The "narrative vulgarities" have been overlooked, he says, in favour of capturing the audience's imagination. "This, it seems to me, explains how a show with a mawkish, melodramatic book, and without a single memorable melody or lyric, could have worked its way so deeply into the public imagination."

Daldry's "narrative desperation" forces him to borrow from a "tattered grab bag of avant-garde tricks", Lahr writes, in order to cover up the "lacklustre book and music".

While he does not take offence to the show being branded a commercial hit, the critic wants his readers to know that it should not be perceived as excellent.

"When the most delightful part of a show is the curtain call - a 10-minute knees-up, with the entire cast, including the miners, now thankfully liberated from their earnestness, dressed in tutus - you know you're in trouble," he concludes.

Lahr's downcast view was not shared by all Americans. Ray Bennett, of The Hollywood Reporter, described it as "the most irresistible show in ages".

Elton John's public relations representative, Gary Farrow, shrugged off criticism from The New Yorker.

He said: "Mr Lahr is entitled to his opinion, but he is the only one so we do not care. It is not representative of the reviews we have had which have described it as the greatest musical ever."

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea