Leading article: Making it big on Broadway

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The Independent Online

Chicago may have come to Covent Garden, and Sunset Boulevard been transported to Piccadilly, but over in New York it is the collieries of County Durham that have wowed them in the capital of showbusiness. Best musical, best actor in a musical, best featured actor, best direction, scenic design, lighting, sound, choreography and orchestration – you name it and Stephen Daldry's Billy Elliot got a Tony award in almost every musical category bar original score.

That's Broadway for you. The US may be accused of trying to impose American values on the rest of the world, but when it comes to art and performance it remains the most open, generous and welcoming of any nation. It was not just Billy Elliot that swept the Tonys, but Alan Ayckbourn's 1973 trilogy of The Norman Conquests, that most English of comedies of class and adultery, which transferred to New York from the Old Vic, London's venerable theatre saved by the efforts of the American actor, Kevin Spacey.

None of which should detract from Billy Elliot's extraordinary feat of running away with ten Tonys. What better story for a time of recession than the heart-warming tale of a boy from the strike-ridden coal industry finding himself and his community's loyalty in pursuit of a career as ballet dancer. Art triumphs over life, hope over despair. Hollywood produced its greatest era of light comedy in the Depression. Maybe this time of recession will also embrace the power of fantasy and dreams. Defeat need not mean pessimism, nor grittiness only darkness. The performing arts have always understood this, none more than the musical which America has made so much its own. Maybe New Yorkers didn't altogether understand the politics of this passionate celebration of working-class values against the depredations of Margaret Thatcher's free market economics. But they clearly understood the human spirit of the piece, which is ultimately what the musical is all about.