No matter how often a signature show is produced, if it is a classic—we anticipate how well the next group of creators will deliver it and pray that they don’t mess it up.
This was not the case for the musical Chicago, which premiered at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oak Brook in late April and runs until June 18. The book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse with music by John Kander is based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins. The original Broadway rendition, which is a recipient of six Tony Awards, two Oliver awards, a Grammy and countless accolades, was brought to the big screen with the film winning the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2002.
From the beautiful opening act to the end, the Drury Lane production did not disappoint. The theatre’s Artistic Director, William Osetek, along with the choreography by Jane Lanier and the music direction of Tony-nominated Roberta Duchak brought the audience into the fold in the 1920’s. The cast is one of the best assembled group of actors, including lead actresses Broadway veterans Kelly Felthous (“Wicked,” “Grease,” “Flashdance”) as Roxie Hart and Alena Watters (“West Side Story,” “Sister Act”) as Velma Kelly.
It was the talents of principal cast member Guy Lockard, who stood out as Billy Flynn, who brought a unique flair to the classic production.
The 6-foot-3-inch-tall actor played the clever lawyer who has the golden touch of controlling the narrative of both female murder suspects through the power of the press and the audience.
Both an actor and natural born singer, Lockard grew up outside of Washington, D.C., where he got his start being a youth participant on BET’s Teen Summit show. The son of two police officers, he gradually began to audition for various television shows and gained a solid reputation as a singer—performing with local Go-Go bands. Once having a recording deal with Interscope Records, he decided to step out and move to New York City to pursue his passion for acting.
Some of his acting credits include appearances on “Law & Order,” “Law & Order SVU,” “Blacklist,” “Gossip Girl,” “Feed the Beast,” “The Affair,” “The Mysteries of Laura;” along with a list of theatrical productions of “Jelly’s Last Jam” and “Side Show” at the Kennedy Center.
When Lockard is not onstage and screen, he is singing and writing music. His style of Jazz and love for House music has led him to performing his dance single “Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda” overseas.
He’s called New York City his home throughout his adulthood and the Defender had a chance to talk with Lockard, who takes on the lead role as one of the few African American male actors of the hit production.
These are some big shoes to fill based on a musical production that has won six Tony awards. How does that feel for you?
These are some big shoes to fill but I have big feet. [laughs] I think with due preparation, prayer and focus—I have been giving it my all. More than anything, I’m excited. I’ve always wanted to do Billy Flynn. Billy is the orchestrator of all this madness. I feel like he’s having the most fun in the show. Almost everyone else is fighting for their life—fighting not to be hanged. He’s in charge of it all. It’s fun to play for two hours onstage because I get to speak to the audience.
As Billy, I get to tell it differently every time. It depends on the audience, it depends on what my co-stars are giving me that day. It’s fun.
You have a great background. You’re an actor with a list of television and theatre credits to your name as well as a fabulous singer so what is your first love?
I can’t say. In one breathe, I can tell you that it’s acting. I love being able to inhabit characters because essentially every character is really an extension of you. Finding something that doesn’t live within you, really finding something to bring forward—something you wouldn’t always bring forward. In the same breath, singing because I feel the same way when I get on stage. I start to sing a song—an original tune or something someone wrote for me.
Was there any fear in taking that leap when you moved to New York City?
Sure, but at that point I just knew if I was going to do this—I had to. I had sung with many popular bands. Go-Go music was popular in D.C. and I was in the major bands. I even sang with other artists who became famous outside of D.C. I got to a point that I realized the fear of not doing it was bigger than the fear of giving it a try. I literally feared what could happen if I never gave it a try.
I could get a job, go to work 8 hours a day, have a family and it’s a beautiful life, but I knew that it wasn’t going to satisfy me. So, I went up there with very little money. My mom said something that really made me comfortable the night I left, ‘You can always come home and start over, but you can’t stay here long—not because I don’t love you but I can’t do that to you.’ She said I can come back to regroup and try again if it didn’t work out. Sometimes, you need to hear it. I probably wouldn’t change one detail of it.
Did you worry about playing a role that was written in the character of Billy Flynn being White?
One of the thoughts I had when I was called in to do this role was ‘how do I handle this because I’m Black.’ My Billy is from the Southside of Chicago and had a mentor who got him to go to school. He hustled his way up. Sort of the way Sammy Davis, Jr. did. He was probably arguably better than all the ‘rat pack’ because he had to be. He’s better than Frank, he’s better than Dean Martin, he could do impersonations of all of them. He had his own swag—he was loved. My Billy transcends all of that.
How do you make this role fit to your own personality and style?
This is 1920’s and there’s moments where I’m preaching. There’s certain things that I do. I asked for a bowl of nuts. We shake the nuts in our hands, pop them in our mouth without looking—that’s not what other people in other cultures do. That’s something that Black men do. My father did it, my grandfather did—African men do it. It’s just something we do when we’re shooting the breeze when we’re thinking. Those little moments are important to me when I develop the character.
While my focus is not throwing my ‘blackness’ in one’s face, I don’t have to—I’m 6 ‘3 and very dark skinned. I don’t have to announce it and I’m not going to diminish it—no one has asked me to. It’s been fun playing with that balance and being an educated Black man.