NEW YORK (AP) - Lee Hall, who told a story of dreams and coal mining in "Billy Elliot," has returned to Broadway with familiar themes.
Hall's "The Pitmen Painters," now playing just two blocks from where adorable Billy makes his grand jetes, is another tale of goodhearted, ordinary people from a hardscrabble, mining town in northeast England who tap into their inner artist.
This time, though, there's no dancing.
Here, the art in question is painting, and the play's initial brushstrokes are light and funny before it grows darker and more political in the second half.
"The Pitmen Painters," inspired by a book by William Feaver and based on real events over 14 years, is the latest work to hit Broadway that's centered on art. It joins an esteemed company - and sometimes plumbs similar themes as "Art," ''Sunday in the Park With George" and "Red." In this case, the work explores how exploitation can happen above and below ground.
The sparse, dialogue-heavy play directed by Max Roberts begins in 1934 when five men, mostly miners, gather for an art-appreciation class in Newcastle offered by the local Workers' Educational Association. They've hired an art professor (an excellent Ian Kelley) from a nearby university to lead the class.
The professor begins a fussy lecture - supplemented with slides of the Sistine Chapel and paintings from the Renaissance - only to realize that his audience have really never encountered art before. They're eager to learn, but lack the language.
"The point is not to examine a painting - the point is to 'feel' a painting," the professor tells the group in his velvety smooth, upper-class accent.
"It's just going to be flat," one of the men shoots back in a thick drawl.
The professor then comes up with a solution: The best way to learn about art - to understand color and perspective and meaning - is to do art. His appreciation class soon becomes a painting one.
The five novice artists - played by Christopher Connel, Michael Hodgson, Brian Lonsdale, Deka Walmsley and David Whitaker - debate their respective works in earthy humor, take field trips to museums and grow more sophisticated in their analyses.