Does Being Famous Matter on Broadway?

You know the show Chicago: winner of six Tony awards in 1997; hit Hollywood movie starting Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Richard Gere; fourth longest-running production in Broadway history (behind only The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Les Misérables).

You probably know John O’Hurley, too, if not by his real name, then at least from his TV appearances: as J. Peterman on Seinfeld, the host of Family Feud from 2006-2010, shaking his groove thang on Dancing with the Stars in 2005, King Neptune on SpongeBob from 2000-2010 (okay, I guess you’d need to hear his actual voice for that one).

Paul Kolnik

But in terms of on-stage experience, O’Hurley’s resume is much shorter, having only played King Arthur in Spamalot a few times and, now, Billy Flynn in Chicago. Now, I’m not saying O’Hurley can’t act or sing; he wouldn’t have gotten the gig if he couldn’t. But does having a TV celebrity in a leading Broadway role make for better theater? Or is he only there to put seats in the seats?

There are immensely talented actors who have spent years developing their vocal range, dancing skills, blocking, and body language specifically to one day get a role such as this one, and yet it appears that O’Hurley has been given the slot simply because of his impressive TV tenure. Personally, that doesn’t add up to me. But I’m just a magazine theater critic who used to act sporadically in my high school’s musicals: what do I know?

So please, go see O’Hurley in Chicago for yourself while it’s here, then get back to me on whether or not you think it makes sense to see him wheeling and dealing as a hotshot lawyer in tap shoes rather than twirling around a TV set during primetime.

Through Sunday, August 12
Ordway Center, 345 Washington St., St. Paul