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Curiocity: The Buzz Begins For ‘Billy Elliot’

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For the first time in Minnesota, theater goers will be able to watch the tale of a young boy with big dreams.

“Billy Elliot” is coming to the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Orpheum Theatre from December to January — but the buzz has already started.

Winner of numerous awards, including a Tony for Best Musical in 2009, “Billy Elliot” has already made quite a mark on Broadway stages across the nation — and beyond.

The story follows a young boy named Billy as he ditches the boxing ring to discover a passion and love for dance. With music by none other than Sir Elton John, the story is an emotional tale of how the determination of one boy inspired an entire community.

On Wednesday, we got a sneak peek into the show that is predicted to blow away the Minneapolis theater audience come winter. With two of the main actors giving their insight — including the young chap who plays Billy — it certainly got the crowd counting down the days until the debut.

Gregory Jbara, who plays Billy’s father, said being a part of this production has been the most gratifying job he’s ever had. And with a resume that includes several big-time TV shows (“Friends,” “Law and Order,” etc.), that’s no fleeting comment.

Jbara said he initially tried out for the role for the same reason many Americans may be facing — he needed to pay the mortgage.

However, for this role, he had to work hard to make an impression, and pack on a few pounds, as the casting directors didn’t want to see him, he said.

“The last time they did, I was 40 pounds lighter with a French accent, and uh, the casting director decided that was not what they were looking for, which is correct,” he said. “I actually gained about 20 pounds before I auditioned for the show.”

Jbara said once he was signed on, he was immediately impressed by the creative team (the exact same team that produced the film), who really transformed the show into a reinvention of the uber-famous movie.

“What is really beautiful about the show is it completely shakes all your expectations,” he said, adding that the musical really hits audiences on a new level than the film.

And a big part of that, Jbara said, is watching these young stars — “the Billys” — on stage. Typically the musical uses three or four “Billys” at a time, because the role is such an undertaking for one little lad.

One of the “Billys” that will grace the Orpheum stage is 14-year-old Michael Dameski, who hails from the land down under in Sydney, Australia.

Dameski said he was thrilled to learn he won the coveted role, but admitted he had troubles keeping it under wraps.

“They told me not to tell anyone, but I couldn’t really keep it a secret. I’m really bad at keeping secrets,” he said. “I got home and told my cousin and told my friends at school. … So yeah, it was a huge secret.”

Dameski said he actually auditioned without dance training, but the casting directors liked him so much that they sent him off to learn to dance then allowed him a second chance.

He first auditioned around the age of 9, and now, at 14, he’s been a part of the show for two years.

During his time with the Australian tour of the show, they won several awards, including a nod for best lead dancing in a show — and opened up a new world to young Dameski, one that would bring him to certain foreign places, like Minneapolis.

“I never thought I’d be in Minneapolis,” he said.

And boy, will he be in for a surprise when he comes back to our fine city — in mid-December.

“Billy Elliot” will debut on Dec. 16, with shows running until Jan. 9, at the Orpheum Theatre, as part of the 2010-11 Broadway Season. Single tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m., Sept. 24.

Sara Boyd is a web producer and columnist at WCCO.COM.

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