Tuesday, September 28, 2010

THEATRE NEWS: Four 'Billies' toddlin’ north
27 Sep'10


Chicago may indeed be a toddlin' town, just like the song says. But when BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL opens on Toronto's Canon stage in January, it will feature the four young men currently sharing the title role in the Chicago production of the Tony Award-winning show -- all of whom will be toddlin' north to be a part of the Canadian premiere cast. And for at least three of them, it will be a homecoming of sorts.

Of the four young Billies announced on the weekend, three of them -- 14-year-old Cesar Corrales, 12-year-old Myles Erlick and 12-year-old Marcus Pei -- have trained at the National Ballet School, as well as performed in the National Ballet of Canada's production of THE NUTCRACKER, leaving only 14-year-old J.P Viernes from California to make his debut on the Canadian stage.

Of the quartet, Cuban-born, Quebec-trained Corrales and Viernes are the most seasoned in the role, having performed as Billy since it hit the Chicago stage in March. The Iowa-born Pei made his Billy debut just a few weeks ago, while Erlick, who hails from Burlington, is preparing to dive into the role in the next few weeks. With four young actors sharing the role, it boils down to two performances a week for each of them -- and that's just fine with them, it seems.

"I think two shows a week is fine," Corrales said Monday as he sat down with his fellow Billies for a bit of a chat at a media meet-and-greet at the Canon Theatre. And Pei certainly concurs, pointing out that performing isn't all they do. "We have to be there for rehearsals and stand-bys and stuff."

And while all four clearly are as happy as clams in the make-believe world of Billy Elliot, they all admit to an occasional longing for aspects of the life they've left behind. For Corrales, it's having two full days a week off, while for Viernes, it's his circle of friends back in California. Erlick meanwhile sums it up for all of them when he says: "There is sometimes that you (miss your old life), but this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. This is an amazing experience and it is just so cool."

And all four of them have been in the show long enough to learn to savour the moment, for all of them know that with every passing day, they are one day closer to outgrowing the part of the young man driven against all odds to dance. When Erlick steps into the part, he will be the 48th performer to play Billy since the show debuted in London's West End, according to producer Eric Fellner who also produced the movie on which the musical is based.

As the two senior members of Toronto's Billy brigade, Viernes and Corrales are sanguine about their diminishing shelf life as Billy. "Usually, I just try to enjoy the moment," Viernes says, while Corrales adds: "You can't stop growing." And for this talented foursome, Billy Elliot is clearly a growth industry.

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