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‘Billy Elliot’ shows canceled in Hungary amid cries that musical is ‘gay propaganda’

The Hungarian National Opera in Budapest announced Thursday that it had to cancel 15 performances of the musical “Billy Elliot” after a homophobic media campaign. (Ferenc Iszaferenc/Getty Images)

By the end of the musical “Billy Elliot,” the title character's father and the hardscrabble mining town in which they live have been redeemed. At first, they were caught up in negative stereotypes of male ballet dancers, but by the end, the people of Everington focused on nurturing the boy's blossoming talent.

It is a not-so-subtle message about society's ability to get over deep-rooted homophobia and simply accept people as they are.

Except maybe not so much in Hungary.

The Hungarian State Opera announced Thursday that it is canceling 15 showings of the movie-based musical adapted by Sir Elton John. Ticket sales nose-dived after a conservative opinion writer claimed that the Tony-award-winning show was spreading “rampant gay propaganda.”

The show — marketed on billboards and social media and a giant banner on the Hungarian State Opera House — was set to be the season finale.

He fought for same-sex marriage for years — and set himself on fire to protest global pollution.

Instead, it will end its run early in large part because of the opinion piece.

“Anyone … can see that the boy is dancing with the (other) little boy instead of the (girls),” the writer, Zsofia N. Horvath, said in the government-friendly newspaper Magyar Idok. “There is a scene in which the boy tries to find women's clothes with his boyfriend, and rainbow (lights) appear behind them.”

Horváth accuses the musical of trying to subliminally influence children.

“How can such an important national institution as the opera go against the objectives of the state and use a performance made for young people around 10, at their most fragile age, for such pointed and unrestrained gay propaganda?” she asked.

What's worse, she said, is that the musical runs counter to the government's goal of producing more Hungarian babies by making Hungarian children believe it is okay to be gay.

“Promoting homosexuality cannot be a national objective in a situation where the population is already aging and decreasing, and our nation is threatened by foreign invasion,” Horvath added.

In an opinion article rebutting Horvath's piece, Szilveszter Okovacs, general director of the Hungarian State Opera, said it was hosting an award-winning drama, not promoting a particular lifestyle, as Horvath claimed.

He asked whether Horvath and her supporters would strip anything not distinctly heterosexual from other works of art: A girl playing a boy's role in “The Marriage of Figaro,” for example, or “Fidelio,” Beethoven's opera in which the title character disguises herself as a prison guard to save her husband.

The rift is the latest example of Hungary's not-entirely-rosy history with gay rights.

As the New York Times reported, the newspaper where the opinion pieces appeared is “an official organ of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's nationalist government,” which has sought to reject Western values and, particularly, liberalism.

Last year, Orban — a leader of the right-wing Fidesz party and a President Trump supporter who has been in power since 2010  — spoke in front of the U.S.-based Organization of the Family, a group that has campaigned against same-sex-marriage laws and worked with Russian President Vladimir Putin on anti-LGBT legislation, according to the Guardian.

The title of the conference at which Orban spoke: “Building Family-Friendly Nations: Making Families Great Again.”

“It's important to say that it's a national interest to restore natural reproduction. Not one interest among others — but the only one. It's a European interest too. It is the European interest,” BuzzFeed quoted Orban as saying.

The belief system equates traditional marriage and heterosexuality with a stronger, more vibrant Europe. Two months before the speech, the Hungarian parliament approved a law that allowed authorities to detain immigrants seeking asylum in Hungary, imprisoning them in cells made of shipping containers and, in some cases, requiring them to pay for their own jailing.

During the May speech, Orban said he hoped to increase Hungary's birthrate by 2.1 percent in the next 20 years.

“Europe is old, rich and weak. The part of the world that released more and more crowds of people in the recent years is young, poor and strong,” he said.

But Okovacs said a similar stance against "Billy Elliot" is having a deleterious effect on art.

“We create 110 little dancers” a year, he wrote of his organization's community outreach efforts. But “there is always a shortage of boys, and if left, Romeo and Juliet would not be able to play without Romeo.”

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