The road to becoming a successful actor can be fraught with detours and missteps. But every experience, whether a walk-on part in a stage production or a cameo in a small-budget film, becomes an important part of any performer's arsenal.
And while many actors wait impatiently for that big break that gets them noticed, most just hope their work will be sufficiently varied.
Few could ask for a more diverse career than that of John O'Hurley, an actor whose credits range from “Seinfeld” and “Dancing With the Stars” to “Family Feud” and “All My Children.”
He's currently starring as Billy Flynn in the national touring production of John Kander and Fred Ebb's hit musical “Chicago.” Presented locally by Celebrity Attractions, the award-winning musical comes to the Civic Center Music Hall this week for eight performances.
Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, this musical theater classic takes a satirical look at corruption in the criminal justice system. Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, both incarcerated for murder, attempt to capitalize on their notoriety in order to establish careers in show business.
Flynn, a criminal lawyer who has become famous for representing celebrity felons, is hired to represent them. With his impressive record for getting convictions overturned, Flynn convinces Hart and Kelly that he is their ticket to freedom.
“I think Billy Flynn is one of the great leading man roles in musical theater,” O'Hurley said recently. “I like to play the danger in the role, but I also play the flirt in Billy, which makes you wonder what kind of character he really is.
“The morality of this man is interesting, and I think you need to be able to play both sides of that reality with a smile. Billy's 11 o'clock number is called ‘Razzle Dazzle' and that's pretty much the definition of who he is.”
While the original production of “Chicago” garnered mixed to favorable reviews when it opened in 1975, “A Chorus Line” emerged as the big hit that season, winning nine Tony Awards. Twenty years later, “Chicago” finally received its due and has since become the longest-running revival in Broadway history.
Not long after completing filming on “Dancing With the Stars,” O'Hurley called “Chicago” producer Barry Weissler with the idea of playing Flynn. Weissler was game, and O'Hurley stepped into the New York production in 2005. In the years since, he's returned to play Flynn whenever his schedule permits.
Known as the “Silver Tongued Prince of the Courtroom,” Flynn is a challenging role that requires a versatile actor capable of commanding the stage. And though the male lead has limited stage time, it's a role that can make or break a production of “Chicago.”
“Billy has charm and elegance but he's a dangerous man because he holds all of the cards,” O'Hurley said. “He's also the guy who never loses. The only time you see him change is in the second act. If the audience doesn't feel that the rules have changed, we haven't done our job.”
O'Hurley's versatility as an actor has afforded him numerous unusual opportunities, from playing J. Peterman on “Seinfeld” to voicing the character of King Neptune on “SpongeBob SquarePants.” The Maine native also has served as host of “Family Feud” and announcer for Purina's annual “National Dog Show.” While such projects have helped make O'Hurley one of today's busiest actors, he still relishes the opportunity to step back into the role of Flynn whenever possible.
“I love the show and I love the role,” O'Hurley said. “That's why I've been doing it on and off for eight years now. I was fortunate to be able to do the 10-year and 15-year anniversaries of the show, and I fully intend to do 20 and 25.”