R&B superstar Usher makes his Broadway debut on Aug. 22 in “Chicago,” playing that slick, seductive lawyer, Billy Flynn in the John Kander-Fred Ebb musical.
The multi-platinum 27-year-old recording artist and five-time Grammy winner, whose hit songs include “Confessions,” “Burn,” “Yeah!” and “You Make Me Wanna,” will perform in the show, the longest running musical revival in Broadway history, through Oct. 1.
“Chicago” which tells the story of murderous chorine Roxie Hart, originally opened on Broadway in 1975. The revival has been running since 1996 and in November will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Broadway.
Billy Flynn is one of musical theater’s choice roles. Jerry Orbach played Flynn in the original production more than 30 years ago. James Naughton was the first Flynn in the revival and was followed by such diverse actors as Taye Diggs, George Hamilton, Huey Lewis, Wayne Brady, Kevin Richardson, Alan Thicke and Gregory Harrison.
Q. Why did you decide to do Broadway?
A. Many years ago I decided to become an entertainer. I didn’t really know what that meant until I began to look at other people who had become the motivating force for me to do what I do.
As a young entertainer I looked at (director-choreographer) Bob Fosse’s work. I looked at Sammy Davis Jr. I looked at Ben Vereen. I looked at all of the people who were real entertainers. They had the ability to be real triple threats: dance, sing and act. I’ve danced. I’ve sang and done exceedingly well. I’ve acted (’The Faculty,’ ’In the Mix’) and done well. ...
At 40-years-old when I step away from this, I want to be able to say that I have experienced it all and had fun doing it. When I heard about the opportunity to play Billy Flynn, it’s like that is a great character. I’ve seen it many of times. The coolest part about it is that he is not a character who has to be consistent. ... His character is so fly and fun: the dancing, the manipulation, all of those great things. ...
If you grab that character, it is almost like being in one of Andy Warhol’s paintings.
Q. What is the first Broadway musical you ever saw?
A. Actually ‘Pippin.’ I saw it on tape believe it or not. ... I’ve seen ‘Chicago.’ I’ve become a fan of Bob Fosse’s work. ... I thought, ’If I ever get a chance to do anybody’s work, I would love to dance Fosse.’ It’s not too jazz. It’s not too ballet. It has just the right elements of isolated movement, which is something that I am accustomed to.
Q. In preparing for this role, did you feel that you were weaker in any aspect of your singing, dancing or acting?
A. I felt like whatever weakness is there will be strengthened by the end of this. Even in the process of preparation as an actor and as a dancer, you become a lot more precise and right on your mark. You have to be.
Q. You’ve been so successful in your music career — do you worry about failure on the Broadway stage?
A. I don’t. I say this: The person who dwells on his failure can’t see the lesson in it. You have to become greater. You have to get up and keep going if you do fail. I can’t say that I’ve failed at anything because it has all been an experience, a journey. Entertainment is that.
Q. How intense has your training been in preparation for your debut?
A. My days are pretty much set one way. ... I prepare for my role and I go to sleep. ... I am certain my schedule will be the same once I am up and running. We are doing eight shows a week. ... If I want to perform every show, I have to take care of myself. I am not going to be able to enjoy New York like I normally do — no hitting the nightclubs and everything. None of that. This is a time for focus.
Q. You’ve made records and performed in films. How does this stage challenge compare?
A. I think it’s been very challenging to be focused. In music you can relax a little bit. You have the after parties and your schedule is not as intense. This one, I am performing every day except Monday. On two days out of that week I perform matinees earlier in the day. I really have to keep myself together. I’ve been eating better trying to get myself together and strong enough to handle it.
Q. You are working with dance captain Greg Butler. Are you going to incorporate some of your own signature dance moves?
A. Well the choreography is set. They gave me an opportunity to do my own thing with it and give my own interpretation of dance. It is pretty much set one way. The one thing that I did add, as I said, Billy Flynn is the type of character that you play your own way. For every person who has ever done it, they’ve done it differently. ...
I grabbed onto a few isolated movements that Fosse had done and adapted. There are a few hat tricks I put in there to give it a little different touch.
Q. Besides ’Chicago,’ what’s next for you?
A. My eye is set on a successful label Ush Records. It’s a priority for me. ... I hope to get back to the studio as soon as I’m done. Hopefully I can get that next album out.