John O’Hurley is one of those actors who everyone seems to recognize. The veteran character actor has been a fixture on TV for more than three decades, finding his breakout role as J. Peterman on Seinfeld.
Over the years, he’s done everything from hosting Family Feud to making it to the finals of the first-ever installment of Dancing With the Stars to serving as host of Purina’s annual National Dog Show, something he’s done every Thanksgiving since 2002.
But one of his most favorite roles was stepping into the shoes of Chicago’s slick lawyer Billy Flynn, first playing the role on Broadway in 2006, returning for three more runs on the Great White Way over the ensuing years, and now appearing with the National Tour, which heads to the National Theatre for 6 days of performances: Feb. 10-15.
“I think he’s one of the great leading men in one of probably the five greatest musicals in the history of Broadway,” O’Hurley says. “They just don’t write leading men roles like this anymore. He’s dangerous, he’s elegant, he’s sophisticated, eloquent; those are qualities you just don’t see much anymore. This is a chance to play one of the last of a great era.”
The actor first saw Chicago performed during a summer theater production back in the ’70s when it was still “vaudevillian style,” and believes that the revival is a much better version of the show.
“It was a whole different style and more tongue and cheek back then,” he says. “They made it darker and a more minimalist set, and created a better version of the show, which has matured through its revival.”
Between Broadway and the tour, O’Hurley estimates that he’s “Razzle Dazzled” close to 1,500 times, and he says he never gets tired of it.
“The role has gotten infinitely more deeper to me. I say a prayer every night before I go on stage and that is ‘God, let me be surprised.’ What I mean by that is I want to be awakened to all the possibilities that can happen on stage that night,” he says. “To say the role is 1,500 times deeper and richer is an accurate statement. I’ve learned something every night from doing the role; not a single performance has gone by where I haven’t learned something new. The prayer works for me.”
O’Hurley has long been a fan of the John Kander and Fred Ebb production and was thrilled when he was first asked to become a part of it.
“I love this style of presentation, the sense of the black comedy that still lives in the Chicago jazz era,” he says. “It’s like one of the last anachronistic eras that we had in our culture. It’s a joy to revisit that every night.”
For the current tour, O’Hurley notes he has his favorite Roxie Hart (Bianca Marroquin) and favorite Velma Kelly (Terra C. MacLeod) alongside him.
“I think Bianca is an absolute gifted actress and comedian, as well as an extraordinary singer and dancer. She is the total Roxie package and I think one of the best to have ever played the role,” he says. “I’ll say the same thing for Terra. She’s extraordinary and as time has gone on, she has deepened and deepened the role of Velma and continues to dance incredibly every single night.”
February 10 – 15, 2015
The National Theatre
1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Tuesday thru Sunday
“I really love touring. Because we have a show that has so much comic nuance in it, a smart audience loves the show because it tickles their imagination and they think during the show,” he says. “The show is like a rock concert in terms of their reaction. We’ve sold out on the road, even during the Super Bowl. They now they are coming to see something great.”
In O’Hurley’s opinion, the reason it has resonated with so many for so long is that it has a theme that is universal.
“We don’t have royalty in the U.S., but we have celebrities and we hold them to a different standard of behavior,” he says. “If you can take someone as tangent as a chorus girl and turn her into a celebrity on the stand, you have the chance of getting her off or certainly less culpable of the crime. And that’s as true today and we’ve seen examples of that over the last 25 years of judicial prudence. Hollywood is held to a different standard. It’s as valid today in the Kardashian era as it was back in the ’20s.”
Whether you’ve seen Chicago countless times or will be seeing it for the first time, O’Hurley welcomes everyone out to see the magic that is this musical.
“If they’ve seen it before, this will be the best production they have ever seen. If they haven’t, this is the show they want to see because this is a timeless classic,” he says. “I can’t look at any other show on Broadway and say this show will be around 18 years from now. That’s something pretty rare.”