TORONTO—Making the leap from skating to stage work isn’t a huge stretch for Elvis Stojko, who’s starring in a production of “Chicago, the Musical” that began in Toronto on March 26.
After all, the three-time world champion figure skater and two-time Olympic silver medalist used to act as a child in Newmarket, Ont., performing in annual plays at his small private school.
He also learned music theory and how to sing from his father, a classically trained tenor, which led to his own album release in 2009 and a role as Vince Fontaine in a 2004 production of “Grease” in Toronto and Hamilton.
“Even on reel to reel, as a little kid, I was always singing by myself playing the tennis racket and in rubber boots,” Stojko said in a telephone interview from his home in Ajijic, Mexico.
“That was me growing up when I was a kid, I was four or five or six years old. My dad, because he’s Slovenian, he was singing in the Slovenian church and that was his thing. He used to go every week and that was his outlet and he loved doing that.”
Stojko developed a lifelong passion for singing too, often belting out tunes while on the road for an ice career in which he became a seven-time Canadian national figure skating champion.
“It’s very rare that I just sit and listen to music, unless it’s just instrumental,” said Stojko, who announced his retirement from amateur figure skating in 2002. “Especially if it’s in my range, I always love to jump in and sing.”
“So travelling a lot, driving a lot over the years, driving from the house to the rink, I would always sing—always, always, always sing in the car. That was my thing, and almost in a way, it was a meditation for me.”
Stojko plays smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn in the jazzy prohibition-era show that Mirvish Productions is running at the Princess of Wales Theatre from March 26 through March 30.
He said he first heard about the opportunity through a skating friend in the U.S. who does a lot of theatre and is friends with one of the producers.
The producers then got in touch with Stojko, who sent them an audition tape to prove he could hit the high notes.
The former figure skating champion, who has studied singing under a vocal coach in Toronto, describes his voice as a high baritone tenor.
Stojko said he hadn’t seen “Chicago” onstage before landing the part, but had watched the 2002 Oscar-winning film in which Richard Gere played Billy Flynn.
Other big names who’ve taken on the role onstage over the years have included Alan Thicke, Billy Ray Cyrus, Usher, and Tom Wopat.
Stojko said he isn’t feeling the pressure that can come from following other stars in the same role, noting he’s “more of a natural actor” who tries to bring some of his own qualities to a part.
“If I enjoy the process, I’ll automatically do something that’s going to be quality, because I’m putting my heart and soul into it. I’m not just sort of faking my way through it,” said Stojko.
“It’s something that I really want to do well at for me, not for just getting accolades for it.”
With files from The Canadian Press