Friday, July 14, 2006

Chicago to Usher in New Billy Flynn

Chicago to Usher in New Billy Flynn

As Broadway's Chicago nears its 10th anniversary -- the revival opened November 19, 1996 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre but has since moved twice, now occupying the Ambassador Theatre -- the tuner is among the most proficient shows for stunt casting.

With such luminaries as Melanie Griffith, Huey Lewis and George Hamilton doing tours of duty in the long-running musical, it's no surprise that the streak will continue with the announcement that R&B heartthrob Usher will assume the role of Billy Flynn beginning August 22 through October 1.

Now I don't mind an inspired choice of replacement actors every now and then -- take Reba McEntire in the titular role of Annie Get Your Gun -- but with visions of seasoned veterans Jerry Orbach or James Naughton or even Richard Gere having provided gravitas to Shyster Number One, it's hard to imagine a young 28 year old crooner having the chops to effectively handle such a manipulative role. (By the way, Erica from the Mid Hudson Valley Theater Blog has a fascinating, in-depth look at how the entire Chicago story evolved through the years, including the real story of the merry murderesses.)

Maybe I'll be proven wrong in this instance, but stunt casting usually just detracts from the shows by turning them into a pop star vehicle. I loved Chicago the first time I saw it, but I'd much rather see this classic close in a dignified manner rather than keeping it on an ill-suited life support system. All the producers seem to care about is profit.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.


At 14 July, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are so right about stunt casting......and having seen Ohrbach....this is not a good choice....who's going to pay attention to the story....?

At 14 July, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

The story clearly takes a back seat to the pop star posturing. I know that some think this is a great way to attract a young, fresh and diverse audience, but where does it end? As Stephen Mosher has said, just because you adore Audra McDonald does not mean she's a fit for Fanny Brice in Funny Girl...

At 15 July, 2006, Blogger Erica said...

I'm not sure what to think of this casting. Usher can sing, but live musical theater takes a lot more then just singing.

At 15 July, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

There's no denying Usher's appeal -- he's probably one of today's most popular singers. But can he act, especially in a role typically cast much older than he is?

At 17 July, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Now Variety is reporting that Tori Spelling is in talks to take on the role of Roxie Hart. Where will it end??

At 19 July, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

New York Post columnist Michael Riedel reports today that advance box office for Chicago has increased by roughly 30% since it was announced that Usher would be in the house.

But Chicago's stunt casting could likely go on much longer given producer Barry Weissler's comments, noting, "...I'd go after Jennifer Lopez to play Roxie. I know she can cut it."

Riedel also notes that Weissler still has one "dream team" casting in mind that, if he successfully pulled it off, would be enough for me to stand up and take notice: Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Billy Flynn and Roxie Hart.

At 21 July, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Just happened to be surfing Technorati and came across the blog posting on Chicago's stunt casting by Chris Caggiano, whose insightful and interesting posts on "Everything I Know I Learned from Musicals" are well worth reading. I invite you to see what Chris has to say at:

At 22 July, 2006, Blogger StephenMosher said...

I want to cast Usher as my next lover.

But not as Billy Flynn.

Maybe he will surprise us. I have been intrigued by stunt casting with this play and many others...I happen to have loved Melanie Griffith; I hear John Stamos was wonderful in CABARET but horrifying in NINE; I'm sort of interested in seeing Rita Wilson but skipped all the other Roxies (except Melanie, whom I adore; I was enchanted by Cheryl Ladd but wouldn't even consider seeing Susan Lucci (thank God for Reba).

There is good and there is bad stunt casting. I think it just is the luck of the draw.

Won't it be funny if Usher is actually good?

At 22 July, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

You're right, Ste. There is good and bad stunt casting. Despite my wariness, I certainly hope for nothing but the best for Usher... I'll be delighted if I'm proven to be wrong.


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