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In what Hungarian journalists have dubbed “gaygate,” local performances of Billy Elliot: The Musical have been canceled and ticket prices slashed after an op-ed in a conservative daily said the show “could turn children gay.”
The Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest axed 15 performances of the Tony-winning hit musical and slashed ticket prices after a campaign by media outlets close to the country’s conservative government dubbed the show gay propaganda.
Szilveszter Okovacs, director-general of the opera house, told independent Hungarian news site 444.hu that the press campaign had hit ticket sales in recent weeks, and “for this reason we are canceling 15 performances.”
The move came after weeks of articles triggered by an op-ed in conservative newspaper Magyar Idok on June 1 that said the musical’s story “could turn children gay.”
It added that propagating homosexuality “cannot be a national goal when the population is getting older and smaller and our country is threatened by invasion.”
In a response published in the same newspaper, Okovacs defended the production, noting that the only gay character in the original script was not included in the local production.
The opera house has staged Billy Elliot more than 90 times over the past two years, selling more than 100,000 tickets, but prices for the remaining performances have now been cut in half.
A journalist at Hungarian daily Nepszava, which he described as the country’s “last and only liberal newspaper,” told The Hollywood Reporter that the scandal had been brewing for weeks and had been dubbed “gaygate” by opponents of the right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Hungary’s conservative government has come under fire in recent months for its hard line against migrants fleeing war in the Middle East and elsewhere and has set itself on a collision course with the rest of the European Union because of its crackdown on independent media and, most recently, the passing of a law making it illegal for people to help refugees.
Billy Elliot, which is based on the 2000 Stephen Daldry film of the same name, was first performed in London’s West End in 2005, where it ran until 2016, and was nominated for nine Laurence Olivier Awards, winning four, including best new musical. Set to music by Elton John and with a book by original screenwriter Lee Hall, it tells the story of a young boy growing up in an economically depressed northern British town in the 1980s who drops boxing to pursue his passion for ballet.
In New York, the show ran for a little over three years on Broadway. It grossed $183.5 million and won 10 Tony Awards, including a shared best actor in a musical award for the three boys that alternated in the title role.
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