John O’Hurley is the perfect man for the job as suave lawyer Billy Flynn in the ultimate Broadway classic Chicago.
See the debonair actor, 58, glide across the stage at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts starting Wednesday through Oct. 20.
While in Fort Lauderdale, we spoke to the former Family Feud host, who famously played eccentric catalog king J. Peterman on Seinfeld, not far from Cardinal Gibbons High School, where O’Hurley attended his senior year.
You’ve played Billy Flynn on Broadway three times and countless times on tour. What’s the appeal?
There’s a wonderful kind of beginning and end to everything. I love the traveling part, then coming back home and having time to be daddy [to 6-year-old William Dylan with wife Lisa Mesloh]. I like to get out on the road. I get to see cities that would not normally be on my itinerary. Like Des Moines, Iowa. I don’t mean to denigrate Des Moines. I’m saying what they’ve done there is fascinating. I feel the same way about, oh, Madison, Wis. Just beautiful. You have the excitement of a new place, and the audience is excited to be there.
How do you prepare? Is it old hat by now?
I usually start about three weeks before, kind of vocalizing everything. I like to say I’ve been blessed with this rodeo voice, but I like to be in shape vocally. I’ve got big numbers and hit high notes. Aside from that, every word of the script is literally in my head forever as if it’s The Pledge of Allegiance. There’s a cadence to it, and it stays with me. I can literally recite the whole thing, even if I haven’t done it in six months, and not miss a beat.
How physically demanding is the role?
I work out every day. For me, it’s about stretching and staying agile. I give Billy a kind of Gene Kelly feel — when he’s walking and turning and placing his feet on the ground. It’s something I’ve created: a legato feel. My legs have to be strong. There’s no excuse for Billy to go out there with a beer belly!
You appeared on the first season of “Dancing with the Stars.” Have you caught any shows?
Not only have I been watching it, I kind of feel like it’s my alma mater. I plan to stop in there Oct. 28.
Do you keep in touch with anyone from the old “Seinfeld” gang?
Well, Bryan Cranston [who played dentist Tim Whatley] has been my best friend since 1983. We met on the soap opera Loving. We were married to the same woman on the show. He’s been my best man twice. I told him never again! We’re going away with our wives once we have a little breather. We travel a lot together. We even bought a couple of vacation properties together.
What do you think about all his success on “Breaking Bad?”
I certainly wasn’t surprised. Bryan’s a classic: deep and dark. He’s matured, developed. You can see an actor develop his gravitas when his eyes go dead and has nothing to lose. Like Pacino has that power. There’s that incredible focus.
Keep in touch with anybody else from the old days at “Loving?”
Well, a funny side note: I was playing twin brothers. ABC tried it out on me before David Canary on All My Children [laughs]. Anyway, they found me an extra who had to be my exact height because I couldn’t talk to myself. They brought in this guy who was a bouncer at the Limelight. A dese, dems and dose kind of bodybuilder. A bad actor. He’d say, ‘Are we done? I gotta go to my friggin’ dressing room and finish my script.’ It was Chazz Palminteri, writing A Bronx Tale. When I see him, I say, ‘Hey Chazz, there still might be some work for you around.’