Before the People vrs O.J. Simpson became known as "the trial of the century," there were the trials of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, two fictional characters based on real-life murderesses in the Broadway musical Chicago.
With a score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, the show evokes the boozy, sexy, smoke-filled jazz clubs of Chicago in the 1920s. It is on stage Monday and Tuesday this week at Springfield's Sangamon Auditorium.
Actor John O'Hurley, perhaps best known as J. Peterman from the comedy series "Seinfeld," plays flamboyant attorney Billy Flynn, the lead male role in the show.
Despite it's unconventional plot, audiences seem to love Chicago's off-beat characters, sardonic songs and energetic Bob Fosse dance numbers, O'Hurley said on GLT's Sound Ideas.
"It combines the best music Kander and Ebb ever wrote with the best choreography ever to be put on a Broadway stage by Bob Fosse," O'Hurley said.
The audience probably isn't going to leave the theater singing the lyrics to a song like "Cell Block Tango," in which the female prisoners in Cook County jail wax philosophical about the homicides they've committed. "But it is probably one of the most creatively organic numbers ever written into a show," Hurley said.
Use of a minimalist set helps shape the show's "timeless quality," O'Hurley said.
"It is played out in a series of skits that demand a lot of imagination on the part of the audience. Your imagination is always working through the show," he said.
Many of the numbers evoke the Jazz Age. "If America has a contributed anything to the world culture it is that jazz period out of Chicago. It is so rich in its authenticity," O'Hurley noted. "That music still runs through the blood of music everywhere."
Many notable Broadway actors have played the brilliant, silver-throated and publicity hungry attorney that O'Hurley portrays, including Jerry Orbach in the original 1975 production and James Naughton in a Tony-winning revival.
O'Hurley said he tries to bring out Flynn's human side.
"I try to bring a quality to him that nobody else touches upon, and that is that there is paternal quality to him. When you are under his aegis, you are under his wing, you are his girl. Now, when he's finished with you, he will turn you around and toss you away."
In one of his more memorable lines from the show, Flynn refers to criminal trials as "a three- ring circus, all show biz."
While O'Hurley has appeared on television and in film, he says the stage is his favorite medium as an actor.
"I love being able to play the fullness of a character," he said. "Television and film are editors' mediums. The stage is the sole responsibility of the actor. It is my job to walk out there, command an audience and hold their attention and take them through the arc of a character. I love that, I love that feeling."
Chicago is the longest running American musical on Broadway. It won the 1997 Tony for Best Revival of Musical. The Phantom of the Opera, an Andrew Lloyd Webber English import, remains Broadway's longest running musical.
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