BWW Interviews: Jake Epstein talks Billy Elliot, Degrassi and Dream Roles

By: Aug. 12, 2011
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Billy Elliot is a smash-hit musical story of one boy's journey to make his dreams to dance come A Tony Award winning show, it has been a hit in the West End and on Broadway for the last five years and Toronto audiences have been embracing with open arms since it opened here last March to rave reviews.

Set in a small town in England, the story follows Billy as he stumbles out of the boxing ring and into a ballet class, discovering a surprise talent that inspires his family and his entire community. The show features music by Elton John, book and lyrics by Lee Hall, choreography by Peter Darling and direction by Stephen Daldry.

BWW was on hand when the show opened in March to bring you coverage of the exciting event as well as interviews with the vast majority of the talented cast. We are now thrilled to profile the show once again in its final few weeks before it says farewell to Toronto for good. The production recently welcomed two of Toronto's favourite leading men to the cast when David Keeley and Jake Epstein joined in the roles of Billy's father and brother respectively. Today we are speaking with Jake Epstein who plays Billy's older brother. Jake was recently seen in the Ross Petty panto Beauty and the Beast and was featured as Melchoir on the 1st National Tour of Spring Awakening. I speak to him about what it has been like joining the Billy Elliot family, and about how he feels his "Degrassi" fans will respond to him in this show:

Congratulations on Billy Elliot Toronto! What has the experience been like for you so far?

It's really been like a dream job. Love my part, love the show and love this cast.

You were coming into a cast that has (for the most part) been together since Chicago - was that experience daunting for you at all?

I expected it to be really daunting and difficult joining this cast. They've been together for so long. But they've been nothing but welcoming. I really can't say enough how much I love this cast.

One of the unique challenges of BE is working with such a young lead, and one who alternates. How does this affect how you approach your role and what is it like having a different "little brother" every night?

The most unique part of this show is working with a new Billy every night. Every Billy is different. They each bring something interesting and specific to the role. I am a different older brother each night, depending on who's on. Not only does it keep the show fresh, but it makes each night really special. Each Billy only goes on twice a week.

Did you get any advice from Patrick (Mulvey) before he departed for Broadway?

I got to hang out with Patrick a bit before he left for Broadway and the thing he told me was to find a way to make the part fun. He said that it's a really intense and serious part, but the audience will love you if you find a way to have fun on stage, despite the seriousness of the part.

Do you have much of a dance background yourself? Can you identify with Billy's struggles in any way from your own childhood?

I went to an arts school as a kid. We had to take dance every other day, along with drama, music and visual arts. However, wearing black tights was something I dreaded... and still have nightmares about it to this day. I think I was a pretty good dancer. I suppose that training helped me land parts in musicals...or has just given me nightmares!

You have a pretty intense fanbase with a lot of younger people from your days on Degrassi - do you feel that this show would appeal to them and would you encourage people who know you mostly from that to come and check this out?

I'm always surprised at how many people remember me from Degrassi. The fact is, Billy Elliot is an incredible show, for any age and any gender. Degrassi fans would absolutely fall in love with Billy Elliot.

You have had the opportunity to tackle some pretty exciting roles early on in your career (Spring Awakening, Billy Elliot, Ross Petty's Beauty and the Beast), do you have One Dream role that you hope to one day get to play?

The older I get, the more dream parts I realize I'm eligible to play. Right now I'd kill to play anything from the Emcee in Cabaret, to Hamlet, to Mark in Rent... there's a long list. Melchior in Spring Awakening was certainly a huge dream for me. I can't wait for what I'm going to play next.

Finally, what would you say to encourage those people who still haven't seen Billy Elliot to come out and see the show?

You haven't seen Billy Elliot? Are you nuts?! You'll love it. Come see one of the best casts of this production put on an incredible show. Before September 3rd!

When and Where?
Billy Elliot
The Canon Theatre

Performance Schedule

On Stage Now until September 3rd, 2011

Tuesday 7PM
Wednesday - Saturday 7:30PM
Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday 1:30PM

Tickets can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 416-872-1212 or online at

Lotto Details:

20 box seats (side seating) are available at each performance. Lottery seats are $25 each cash Only. Patrons can enter the lottery two hours prior to the performance, with a limit of one lottery entry per person. The draw will begin 1½ hours before showtime, at which point no further entries will be accepted.

Each winner will be able to purchase up to two tickets for that day's next performance only. All winning patrons and their guests must be present to purchase tickets and will be wrist-banded by Box Office staff (Photo ID may be required).



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