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John O'Hurley Returns to the Billy Club

The popular stage and television star comes back to Broadway's Chicago as razzle-dazzle lawyer Billy Flynn.

By New York City
John O'Hurley
John O'Hurley
John O'Hurley has had a remarkably varied career over the past 25 years, but one of his favorite roles has been the razzle-dazzle lawyer Billy Flynn in the hit musical Chicago, which he first played on Broadway in 2006 and later on the show's national tour. On July 20, he returns to the Broadway production for the first time for a five-week engagement. TheaterMania recently spoke with the actor about the popular show and his eclectic career.

THEATERMANIA: What's the main reason you keep coming back to play Billy Flynn?
JOHN O'HURLEY: Billy fits me like a glove. He's very easy to put on even if I've been away for a while. I never really lose him. I need 20 minutes of rehearsal to be in step with the choreography. It just falls into my rhythm.

TM: Were you ever interested in being a lawyer like Billy?
JO: I always wanted to be an actor, but I was also attracted to both the law and the priesthood -- I almost became a priest twice -- because of their theatricality. I admire lawyers' ability to process information quickly. Actors don't have to do that; we get to rehearse and just look like we're doing it.

TM: How do you feel about working with this Broadway cast: Ruthie Henshall, Amra-Faye Wright, and Carol Woods?
JO: I have never worked with Ruthie, but I have watched her on YouTube and she is an extraordinary performer. Amra was my first Velma, and she is one of our dearest friends; my wife and I visit her all over the world. And I did the tour with Carol; in fact, our three-and-a-half-year-old calls Carol one of his adopted aunts. So it's going to be great.

TM: So do you wear a new tuxedo every time you come back to the show?
No. They had a nice Brioni tux made for me the first time, and now anywhere I go, it goes. But I wear my own shoes; they're the same black shoes I first wore on Dancing With the Stars. I really like the feel of them; in fact, I'd have them duct-taped before I got rid of them.

TM: So if it's the same tuxedo, does that mean you've stayed the same weight for the past few years?
JO: Yes. My wife and I are into Pilates. I think anyone over 40 should be doing it. In fact, when any of my friends go on to Dancing With the Stars, I send them to the Pilates studio right before they start.

TM: Billy is offstage quite a lot in Chicago. What do you do in your downtime?
JO: In New York, I get to hang back with my family in the dressing room. I'm addicted to golf and the Boston Red Sox, so I can watch that on my computer, and I am also addicted to Sudoku, and those puzzles totally keep me occupied. I like problem-solving, although I'm not particularly good at math.

Justin Brill and John O'Hurley in Monty Python's Spamalot
(© Carol Rosegg)
Justin Brill and John O'Hurley in Monty Python's Spamalot
(© Carol Rosegg)
TM: You also spent a lot of time the last few years playing King Arthur in Monty Python's Spamalot. Is he anything like Billy?
JO: It was hard to find similarities between them. To me, Arthur and J. Peterman, the character I played on Seinfeld, were the most similar. Even though they were separated by 1000 years, they shared the same sense of lunacy. Spamalot was my sitcom. I had more fun in Las Vegas hearing 1500 people laughing every night than anything I've ever done!

TM: Do people still talk to you about Peterman?
JO: In urban areas, people will talk about him to me. Of course, a large continent of people talk to me about Dancing with the Stars, another large continent talks to me about hosting Family Feud, the young kids just care about me as King Neptune on Sponge Bob SquarePants, and the soap opera fans talk about all the shows I did, especially because some people remember most what they watched during their teen and college years. Some of my dearest friends go back to those days -- and some of those actors have become big stars, like Bryan Cranston. It's a very interesting fraternity.

TM: I want to talk to you about the National Dog Show, which I watch every Thanksgiving. How did you get to be the host?
JO: That's something that grew out of nothing. NBC had this predicament, because the Macy's Day Parade would get these huge ratings, and then they had nothing to follow it before football. So one of the guys from NBC Sports was watching the movie Best In Show over Thanksgiving weekend and he comes back to the office and by Monday night they had this dog show in Philadelphia branded. And on Tuesday morning, I got this call and there was this "woof woof" on the other end, and now I've been hosting it for nine years and it's become so incredibly popular.

TM: Did it inspire you to become a dog owner?
JO: We already had a dog -- he's about 20 years old now -- but through the show and becoming acquainted with all 165 breeds, we have adopted two puppies in recent years: a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel and a little Havanese. The message of the dog show is to learn what the right dog for your situation is and these are right for us.

TM: So, what else is in your future? More TV? More Broadway? Another visit to Dancing With the Stars?
JO: Dancing has asked me back a few times, and I will definitely go back if I find the time! I've been in meetings to develop a new talent-driven show in the same style, although not about dancing, and two networks are interested. And I'm definitely looking into more Broadway, both some new shows coming in or taking over parts in existing ones, but that's all I can say.


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