- - Sunday, February 8, 2015

Seinfeld alum John O’Hurley brings “Chicago” to D.C.

The musical “Chicago” storms into Washington with a razzle-dazzle cast headed by John O’Hurley as Billy Flynn, Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly and Bianca Marroquin as Roxie Hart. Based on newspaper headlines about two women who met in jail prior to their separate murder trials, the book and lyrics by Fred Ebb and the toe-tapping score by John Kander illuminate the decadent 1920s.

Mr. O’Hurley is the ultimate Billy Flynn, one of many plum roles inhabited by the peripatetic actor, singer, television host, writer, composer, promoter of green energy and board member of J. Peterman, the company whose owner he impersonated on “Seinfeld.”

“I especially enjoy playing Billy because he’s dangerous and elegant, and yet I see a paternal side to him,” Mr. O’Hurley told The Washington Times. “It only pops up in Act Two when Roxie says, ‘Billy, I’m scared.’ He realizes that she is just a little girl, and she sees that the stakes have changed and understands the consequences. Bianca is my favorite Roxie since she began playing it about a year ago. And the wonderful Terra has played Velma most of the times to my Billy.

“I love singing my big number, ‘All I Care About,’ but my favorite is ‘We Both Reached for the Gun.’ That’s when Roxie and I go into the ventriloquist vaudeville act. Kander and Ebb are from Chicago and knew jazz and the music from that period. While I was on Broadway recently, I went around to see other new shows and listen to people sing. Today’s music doesn’t have the same quality. Each time I asked myself: If this show were around 18 years ago, would it have had the same reaction that ‘Chicago’ did then and still does?”

Mr. O’Hurley rarely stands still. When not performing on television, film or stage, he might be emceeing a show, doing voice-overs for “Family Guy” and other popular cartoons, playing golf, supporting favorite charities, singing or composing. A self-taught pianist, he plays by ear and admits that his decision to record some of the melodies in his head was to prevent them from being lost to the ages. His highly praised “Peace of Our Minds” features the sweeping style of electric cellist Marston.

Each Thanksgiving finds him hosting the National Dog Show.

“It’s my favorite thing of the year,” Mr. O’Hurley said enthusiastically. “Two thousand of the best dogs in the world are there. It’s magic to walk up and down to admire 190 breeds and marvel at the rich history of breeding and what dogs mean to us. My first dog was Taffy, a dachshund I had at the age of four. Today we have two dogs — Lucy, a Cuban Havanese, and Sadie, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Dogs mean so much to me that I’ve written three books about them — two for adults and one children’s musical.

“I’m currently working on a series with Brian Cranston purchased by Sony and due out in the spring,” Mr. O’Hurley said. “It’s one of the funniest things I’ve done, but for now I’m focused on Billy Flynn. I love this show, have such a good time in this role and have done it so many times that I get proprietary about it.”

Just as Mr. O’Hurley relishes playing Billy Flynn, so does Miss MacLeod revel in the role of Velma Kelly. When the longest-running American musical and the second-longest-running show in Broadway history returns to National Theatre next week for the fifth time, it will mark her second turn as Velma at National since 2009.

Miss MacLeod originated the role in the world French-language premiere in her native city, Montreal, and at the Casino de Paris in Paris, earning a Moliere Award nomination in the process. By then “Chicago” had been translated into German, Swedish, Dutch, Spanish and Russian, so the producers knew that a French version would open up a whole new market. Once the show captivated a French-speaking audience in Quebec, they felt it was sure to play well in Paris.

“There was great excitement from the beginning,” Ms. MacLeod said. “Because the film came out less than a year earlier, we let them know in advance that our slimmed-down set was much different from what they had seen on-screen. The French love jazz and immediately took it to their hearts.”

Since then she has introduced the leggy murderess Velma to audiences around the world. The sparse set directs all eyes to swivel front and center for her opening number, “All That Jazz,” one of the Kander-and-Ebb showstoppers she adores.

“They are masters of storytelling through lyrics that resonate with me and music that moves me. Even onstage I stop and listen to their brilliant brass and violin parts and can’t help wanting to dance. Velma is not a cookie-cutter role. It has been played by many other artists, and yet I’ve been honored with it so often. Along the way there have been dozens of landmarks. My first time on Broadway was really big, and the highlights overseas include the lavish Casino de Paris in France. On the stage of a wonderful old theater like Washington’s National, I feel that I’m continuing in the steps of legends.”


WHAT: “Chicago” the musical, winner of six 1997 Tony Awards

WHERE: National Theatre

WHEN: Feb. 10-15

INFO: Tickets $48 and up at 202/628-6161, 800/514-3849 or thenationaldc.com.

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