Tony Nominee Jbara Believes Billy Elliot Role Has Made Him a Better Actor

News   Tony Nominee Jbara Believes Billy Elliot Role Has Made Him a Better Actor
Gregory Jbara has long been a Broadway favorite, offering humorous performances in such diverse musicals as Damn Yankees, Victor/Victoria and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Because of his comedic gifts, however, few may have expected the dramatic weight he carries in the Tony-nominated Best Musical Billy Elliot.

Gregory Jbara
Gregory Jbara Photo by Bill Kiefer

Jbara, whose Broadway resume also includes Serious Money, Born Yesterday and Chicago, plays Dad in Billy Elliot The Musical, and delivers a performance that is both comical and supremely touching. In fact, the singing actor takes one of the great journeys in the show, as Dad not only accepts but becomes proud of his young son's dancing genius.

"When I got the job [as Dad]," Jbara said at the recent Tony nominees press reception, "I was so excited to have the opportunity to play that role, but I was also intimidated thinking if I was able to do that eight times a week. Thanks to our amazing directors, who are also amazing teachers, I honestly believe I'm a better actor having worked on this job. So that is wonderful, because I actually have more confidence as an actor."

"I'm amazed how often I can be surprised onstage," Jbara added. "When I really surrender to the reality that we've created, I get shaken a lot. I'm amazed at how often I'm moved just being able to be up there and work with those Billys and with Santino [Fontana]. I just didn't know that you could keep things free and loose and that they could be different every night and still be surprising and absolutely justifiable and full."

When asked whether a rotating group of Billys — three Tony-nominated actors, Trent Kowalik, Kiril Kulish and David Alvarez, share the role — affects the show, Jbara explained, "It's not a factor at all because they're all well-directed. The important story points are all there. The things you need and depend on each other for timing, they all know to do. But there's still a lot of freedom so they can each bring their own personality to the role. . . . It's nice that there's a switch-up, but I think it would still be as gratifying if any one of those boys did the show eight times a week."

Gregory Jbara with David Alvarez in Billy Elliot
photo by David Scheinmann

Although the role is emotionally demanding, Jbara says that when the curtain comes down he's "completely invigorated and alive and rejuvenated. It's a healing thing, and I've never had that experience in a job ever before." Gregory Jbara is nominated for a 2009 Tony Award for Best Performance By a Featured Actor in a Musical. Others in that field include David Bologna, Billy Elliot, The Musical; Marc Kudisch, 9 to 5: The Musical; Christopher Sieber, Shrek The Musical; and Will Swenson, Hair.

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