By STEVEN HOWELL
---- — MONTREAL — Boxing gloves or a ballet tutu? For one young boy, the answer was to follow his heart.
“Billy Elliot the Musical” comes to Place des Arts for an eight-performance run beginning Tuesday, Jan. 8. Based on the 2000 hit movie, the work was adapted as a musical to London’s West End before making its Broadway debut in 2008. It features music by Elton John, book and lyrics by Lee Hall, choreography by Peter Darling and direction by Stephen Daldry. The musical won 10 Tony Awards in 2009, including Best Musical.
Richard Gatta, who acts as dance captain for the show as well as portrays the role of older Billy, joined the tour in December 2011. The musical has taken him on a journey both geographically and philosophically.
Gatta has toured all over the country with major stage runs in Boston and Philadelphia, and the Montreal run is now embarking on a major Canadian tour with stops in Ottawa, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Gatta originally started the tour as an ensemble cast member. Through the year, he rose in ranks to dance captain.
“The dance captain is in charge of maintaining the integrity of the choreography from the original production,” Gatta said.
Different venues and cast-member changes make his job necessary.
“There are always new ensemble members as well as a handful of new Billys joining the show,” Gatta said. “So we want to make sure that the choreography with all those changes is always up to speed.”
“Billy Elliot” tells the tale of a young motherless boy who, after an unsuccessful stint in a boxing class, stumbles on a ballet lesson where he soon becomes the only boy in the class. The work is set in northern England against the backdrop of the 1984 to 1985 U.K. coal-miners’ strike.
“Billy really finds his way in ballet class,” Gatta said. “He realizes that he’s got a talent for this art form. The show follows how he works with a teacher who helps him realize his dream.”
Gatta said Billy is one brave soul for staying with what he believes.
“It’s a battle between what his dad wants him to do and what Billy wants to do,” he added. “It’s quite a struggle for Billy.”
Gatta sees a lot of himself in Billy.
“What I like about the show is that it really parallels my life as a dancer and what I went through as a kid,” Gatta said. “I see a lot of my former life in Billy and how he moved on through rough patches and a community who didn’t accept him for what he was doing.”
Gatta is in charge of keeping the entire cast on their toes, so to speak. There are four young actors who rotate the role of Billy. Each Billy travels with his parents as well as tutors. The whole company combined tallies in at about 100 members. Gatta said each Billy has his own strength.
“Some of them are tappers, some are more fluid in ballet, some are more trained in acting,” Gatta said. “But they’re all there to put on a good show.”
Gatta said the story is relevant to any family.
“If you have a dream and want to pursue something, overcome your obstacles and do what you really love.”
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.IF YOU GO WHAT: "Billy Elliot." WHEN: Tuesday, Jan. 8, through Sunday, Jan. 13. WHERE: Place des Arts, 175 St. Catherine St. W., Montreal. ADMISSION: Tickets cost $39, $69, $79 and $89. Tickets are available through Evenko at www.evenko.ca. CONTACT: For more information, call Place des Arts at (514) 842-2112 or visit www.pda.qc.ca.