‘Billy Elliot’ canceled; ‘Chicago’ to take its place

03/07/2014 2:03 PM

03/07/2014 2:04 PM

The national tour of the 2008 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Billy Elliot” has been canceled, sending Theater League officials scrambling to find a replacement for Wichita’s 2014-2015 season.

The show, based on the acclaimed 2000 British movie about the son of a coal miner who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer, was named best musical in America, England and Australia. Announced just one month ago, when Theater League started its new season ticket drive, the show was to cap next year’s four-show season in April 2015 and be a Wichita premiere.

Now, it will be replaced by the national tour of the award-winning “Chicago,” which tells of two “merry murderesses” in jazz-era America and is one of the longest-running musicals in Broadway and London history. It’s also a wicked commentary on America’s enduring fascination with gossip, scandal, celebrity and tabloid melodrama.

“We were fortunate to get ‘Chicago’ on such short notice,” Mark Edelman, president of Kansas City-based Theater League, said Friday. “We had tried to get it before, but no dates were available. The producers recently released some more dates, and we were able to get it.”

Edelman said that in surveying Wichita theater audiences in the past, “Chicago” had polled very well. He also said the tour of “Chicago” was put together by the same producers who still have it running on Broadway. That means, he said, the cast here will include actors who have performed it on Broadway, although no names have been released yet.

“We’re excited by the change,” he said.

Edelman said no reason was given for the “Billy Elliot” tour cancellation.

“It wasn’t cancelled just for Wichita. The whole tour was canceled. It was a seismic shock in the producing community,” Edelman said.

There is the possibility that the tour was cancelled in favor of granting rights to regional theaters like Music Theatre of Wichita to mount their own productions, he said. Or, rights may have been withdrawn because a movie version is in the works.

“I never know why some producers do what they do,” Edelman said.

“Chicago,” with music by Kansas City native John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb (the team also behind “Cabaret”), hit Broadway the first time in 1975 and snagged 10 Tony nominations with Gwen Verdon as wronged-housewife-turned-killer-diller Roxie Hart and Chita Rivera as her sexy, scheming fellow inmate Velma Kelly.

It was revived on Broadway in 1996 with Bebe Neuwirth and Marcia Lewis, winning six Tonys, including best musical revival, and was made into a movie in 2002 with Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones, winning six Oscars, including best picture.

Among the familiar songs are “We Both Reached for the Gun,” “When You’re Good to Mama,” “All I Care About is Love” and the rousing “All That Jazz.”

“Chicago” will play at Century II Concert Hall on April 21-23, 2015, capping the season that also features Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (Dec. 16-18), “Sister Act” (Feb. 3-5, 2015) and “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” (March 2-4, 2015).

Season tickets range from $115 to $270 for all four shows. Current season-ticket holders must renew by March 21. New season-ticket seekers should order early to reserve a place in line by calling 316-303-8100 or visiting the WichitaTix box office in Century II 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Single-show tickets will not go on sale until early fall. For more information, visit www.theaterleague.com.

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