If you've watched any TV at all lately you've seen the ads: Billy Elliot The Musical! Based on that British ballet movie! With music by Elton John! It won all the Tonys! It has dancing kids, and miners, and nigh-unintelligible working-class accents!

Well, that's all true, sure. Billy Elliot is an impressive spectacle, at times quite moving, full of ecstatic displays of dance talent by its very young performers (the four actors sharing the role of Billy are all about 15). It's also a confused mess of a production, overloaded with eye candy and marred by baffling ignorance of tone.

The script, by Lee Hall, hews closely to his script for the 2000 film: Billy, a kid from a northeastern English coal town whose mum is dead and da is busy running the 1984 miners' strike, stumbles into a ballet class and discovers his true calling, which he sticks with despite the disapproval of all the manly men around him. It's a socially conscious schmaltzfest in the great British tradition, and that's fine—no one expects the story of a boy who yearns to dance to be a downer all the time—but Hall's stage script swings wildly between moving, abstract scenes and broad comedy that could have easily been drawn from the outtakes of The Producers.

An example: Billy's grandma (Patti Perkins) sings "We'd Go Dancing," a nice number about what a bastard her husband was and how sometimes she loved him anyway, while the men of the company, in vests and shirt sleeves, perform a lovely abstract dance with beer steins and wooden chairs. Full of slow feats of strength and exaggeratedly masculine gestures, it's a really beautiful moment. But then, a few minutes later, Billy happens upon his friend Michael (Griffin Birney, Jacob Zelonky) trying on his sister's clothing. After ten minutes of gay jokes, tinsel curtains drop, the lights come up and we're subjected to a dance number with enormous tap-dancing dresses.

weird juxtapositions of beauty and camp
pas de deux
A 20-foot puppet caricature of Margaret Thatcher!

Billy Elliot
Billy Elliot
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 241-1802, portlandopera.org. 7:30 pm Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 7:30 pm Saturday, 1 and 6:30 pm Sunday, April 13-17. $29.50-$90.