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Olympic medalist Stojko shines in Broadway debut

Credits martial arts training with helping his focus for 'Chicago'
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Two-time Olympic silver medalist Elvis Stojko was impressive in his Broadway debut in his role as Billy Flynn in 'Chicago.' -Jeremy Daniel

Elvis Stojko certainly knows the pressures and pleasures of live performance from the decades he's spent in figure skating. In March, he expanded his horizons by taking on the role of Billy Flynn in both the Broadway and Toronto productions of the award-winning musical Chicago.

It wasn't his first time on stage. In 2004, Stojko appeared in a production of Grease in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario. In middle school, he did school shows and in recent years had small roles in feature films. 

Stojko learned how to sing from his father, who is a classically trained tenor. The three-time world champion has also worked with a singing coach, Canadian soprano Denise Daniels, and has even recorded a CD with a couple of songs.

"I've had training throughout my life that helped me prepare for the next stage, which was Broadway," Stojko said. "I was able to pick up on detailed stuff within the first week of rehearsals."

The role in Chicago came about thanks to an introduction from skating show producer Steve Disson. Stojko submitted an audition tape, which resulted in him getting the part.

There were only two weeks of rehearsals for his Broadway debut. Due to a brief delay in getting his work visa, the first couple of days actually took place over Skype. With a pianist from a local theater show near his home in Mexico serving as his accompanist, he worked and coordinated with Chicago music director/conductor Leslie Stifelman.

"We got quite a bit of work done, and I got a comfort level under my belt," Stojko said.

Work visa in hand, he headed to the Big Apple.

Most of his rehearsals in New York were with Stifelman and production stage manager David Hyslop. He also worked with dance captain David Kent.

"They worked with me on all three facets: the acting, the singing and the choreography," said Stojko, who saw the Broadway show for the first time about 10 days before his debut. "I watched the show three days in a row to get the feel for everything. Then I started working with a few of the understudies."

During his second week, Stojko began rehearsing sections of the show with the cast. On the day of the show, he practiced with the orchestra for the first time.

Opening night was March 17. He did eight shows.

"I do have a natural feel for timing on stage, for the jokes and for the audience, because each audience is different," he said.

His debut was nerve-wracking, but then he found his groove.

"I used my martial arts techniques to keep calm -- my breathing and all of that. It was even more important for the singing aspect," Stojko said.

Stojko gives thanks to his sifu (martial arts teacher), Glen Doyle, with whom he has worked since 1989. Doyle's techniques were instrumental to his mental preparation for Chicago.

From March 26-30, he performed the Billy Flynn role in Toronto. He didn't meet any of that cast until show day. The cast was incredibly helpful, running lines with him before showtime.

"The energy was different," he noted. "All the interaction, I had to be really on my game.

"It's funny, I was using Broadway as a warm-up for Toronto, because I had so many friends and family coming out to see me that I really wanted it to be very comfortable by the time I got to Toronto," he added. "I didn't want to just sort of be Elvis Stojko, 'Oh, he's up on stage and he's trying.' I really wanted to knock it out of the park. I took it very seriously."

For now, Stojko is gearing up to resume kart racing, which he has been doing with great success since 2011. This year, he's going to continue competing in the master division for people over 30, and he is also going to race in the under-30 senior division with the fast, young guys, aiming for the upper echelon. He hopes to again compete at SuperNationals in Las Vegas this November.

"I'm using karting as a training platform for car racing," he said. "Racing is my main focus for my competitive instincts. All my artistry and creativity will go into the acting and singing. There's skating on the side, too, which I'll do."