The Razzle-dazzle Of 'Chicago'

Tom Wopat Is The Latest Actor To Play Billy Flynn As Production Comes To Baltimore

April 21, 2009|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

The stage version of Chicago has been hunkering down on the Great White Way for such an extended period - since Nov. 14, 1996, to be precise - that it has become a recognized and reliable source of income for A-list, B-list and, yes, even C-list celebrities.

Chicago is the seventh-longest-running Broadway musical of all time. At least 44 performers with semi-recognizable names have tackled the role of Billy Flynn, the smooth-talking, glad-handing attorney who helps two femme fatales beat murder raps, from Kevin Richardson of the Backstreet Boys to Mr. Dirty Dancing himself, Patrick Swayze.

Here's a brief rundown of the many faces of Billy Flynn, starting with Dukes of Hazzard star Tom Wopat, who portrays Billy in the production stopping off in Baltimore this week. You can decide for yourself on which list good old Luke Duke belongs.

* Tom Wopat (2008-present, national tour): The role of a smooth-talking shark might seem a stretch for a guy who played a redneck bootlegger on television between 1979 and 1985. But Wopat actually is an actor of considerable subtlety and skill. He proved it last year when he was nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of a disillusioned husband in A Catered Affair. There's no word, however, whether the current production of Chicago incorporates Luke Duke's patented "hood slide" into the passenger seat of a moving vehicle.

* Usher (Broadway, 2006): The R&B star comes across on stage as Mister Nice Guy and was therefore excoriated for his interpretation of Billy, who has the toothy grin and voracious appetite of a killer whale. New York Times critic Ben Brantley wrote that Usher "is cast so hard against type, you would think you would hear him cracking from the collision."

* David Hasselhoff (London's West End, 2004): We watched him solve crimes with the aid of a talking car in Knight Rider, bound down a California beach in tight red Speedos and in slow motion for 11 years on Baywatch and, more recently, pass judgment on wannabe performers on America's Got Talent. No doubt about it, Hasselhoff and Billy definitely have something in common - both exude the overripe aroma of a prime round of Limburger.

* Richard Gere (film version of Chicago, 2002): The Sexiest Man Alive (according to People magazine in 1999) might have picked up a 2003 Golden Globe Award for his portrayal of Billy in the movie, but he didn't get it because of his hoofing ability. In Billy's big tap sequence, "Razzle-Dazzle," Gere seems both tentative and surprised, as though he wanted to apologize to the floor for hitting it so hard.

* George Hamilton (2001, 2002, 2007, on Broadway): The Tanned One had the umm, well-oiled, aspects of Billy's personality down flat. Both also demonstrated a refreshingly original approach to conventional morality. Hamilton revealed last year on national television that he had a sexual relationship with his stepmother when he was 12 years old, insisting: "It was very normal."

IF YOU GO

Chicago will be at the Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave., at 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. Tickets are $47-$67. Go to lyricoperahouse.com or call 410-547-7328.

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