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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Chicago brings John O'Hurley to Seattle
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Chicago brings John O'Hurley to Seattle

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Chicago
March 2-7
Paramount Theatre


John O'Hurley is one of the most recognized faces on television today. He appeared on Seinfeld, Dancing with the Stars, General Hospital, and hosted Family Feud. His film roles include Valley of the Dolls and Race to Space, and he is allegedly working on the film version of Ahab's Wife. But he is also the author of two books, and has composed three CDs. He even spends a great deal of time dedicated to the Red Cross, the Epilepsy Foundation, and Golfers Against Cancer. Somewhere in his busy schedule, he finds time to perform on the stage. After a short hiatus for yet another charity, Seattle marks Mr. O'Hurley's return to the musical Chicago as the loveable lawyer Billy Flynn. The Seattle Gay News made sure they welcomed him back.

Eric Andrews-Katz: At what age did you start learning piano?

John O'Hurley: I taught myself early on and have been playing all my life. I was playing hard during my college days. But didn't start composing immediately. I never recorded anything until the first album in 2005.

Andrews-Katz: How did you learn vocal training?

O'Hurley: I studied opera before, back in New York, as a minor in college. I started off in 1981 to move to Broadway and never looked back.

Andrews-Katz: When did you start composing original music?

O'Hurley: I've been hearing melodies in my head since I was four years old; it's a simple as that. I grew up in the late '50s when people still wrote great theme songs for movies: Moon River, Love Story and Exodus. The kind of music that never has lyrics, that was my early inspiration.

Andrews-Katz: Have you ever thought about writing your own Broadway musical?

O'Hurley: It always comes back to me, and I think about it, but I don't compose music with lyrics - although I'm starting to. I don't know if I could do Broadway's kind of sweeping melodies.

Andrews-Katz: How did you get involved with Seinfeld as the character J. Peterman?

O'Hurley: They were all fans of the catalogue and thought it would be a funny idea if Elaine worked for the J. Peterman company. They wanted someone who "sounded like" the catalogue. I thought it would sound like a bad '40s radio drama and a bad Charles Kuralt impersonation.

Andrews-Katz: At what point did the real J. Peterman contact you for a business deal?

O'Hurley: When we first did the show, we did it without asking permission. John Peterman found out and gave us permission afterwards (thanking us for the great publicity). Consequently, we've become joined at the wrists and ankles. A year after Seinfeld ended, I bought the company along with John Peterman.

Andrews-Katz: What was your reaction to being asked to participate in Dancing With the Stars?

O'Hurley: They asked. I said, "I'd be very happy to host." They asked for me to dance. I said, "I'd be very happy to host." I was one of the first they asked, so I agreed. I didn't know that it was one of the most strenuous things you'd go through. It's 90% Marine boot camp and only 10% cocktail party.

Andrews-Katz: Did you share the feelings that the 2005 finals of Dancing With the Stars was rigged, or was that a viewer's feud?

O'Hurley: In a way, it was rigged. Because the judges were going to give her [Kelly Monaco] a 10 because she was an ABC "soap" star, she had already won. They took an online vote from the previous show, judging by that, no one was registered on abc.com to vote except for the fans of the soap. It wasn't rigged per se, but more of a poorly designed voting system. They had to shut down the website to redesign it.

Andrews-Katz: How long have you been involved with the Epilepsy Foundation and the Red Cross?

O'Hurley: I worked with the Red Cross before I was even an actor. I was a director of Public Relations for four years in the late 1970s. I became a recognized face with the Epilepsy Foundation. I lost my sister to epilepsy when I was 16, and so that stays pretty close.

Andrews-Katz: What challenges are there with hosting The National Dog Show?

O'Hurley: It's the number-one show on NBC, seen by over 20 million people. It's been very successful for eight years. The challenges come with how to make it funny and different every year. We have the same 165 breeds, so from my standpoint, I try to make it more entertaining and less repetitive.

Andrews-Katz: You've performed in Spamalot, Pirates of Penzance, and now Chicago as Billy Flynn. Do you prefer stage or television work?

O'Hurley: I find that stage work is more satisfying. It's a single take. It's live and organic. It's a give/take energy relationship with the audience. I feel better on stage because I'm playing a complete character with beginning, middle and end, not a serial-driven being.

Andrews-Katz: Given the opportunity, what role would you like to play?

O'Hurley: I'd like to resurrect Man of La Mancha or Equus. I saw the original [Equus] and was influenced by what I saw. I saw the current production and wasn't fond of it. I am looking forward to returning to Billy Flynn. After two and a half years of King Arthur, it'll be good to put the tux on again.

Legendary theater team John Kander and Fred Ebb originally created Chicago in 1975. Dance master Bob Fosse directed and choreographed the musical, and it ran for over 936 performances. A revival began in 1996 which is still running, and has become one of the top 10 longest-running shows on Broadway.

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