John O’Hurley is one of Connecticut’s best known favorite sons and he’s back, albeit just for a few days, but thrilled to be here. Best known as catalogue entrepreneur J. Peterman on the tv show “Seinfeld” and the winner of the Season One grudge match on “Dancing With The Stars,” the 58-year-old musician, show host, author, stage star and philanthropist plays slick lawyer, Billy Flynn, in the Bushnell production of “Chicago” with Christie Brinkley. Raised in West Hartford, O’Hurley was glad to be “home” for a few days, relaxed and personable in his dressing room just an hour before opening night Thursday as he Spilled the Beans With Java.
Q: If I understand this correctly, this is a significant show for you. Why?
A: This is the first time since 1981 when I left Connecticut to go to New York that I am performing in the Hartford area.
Q: And the kick is?
A: I have not been at the Bushnell since 1967 when Strawberry Alarm Clock was in town with The Turtles. It was my first concert. WDRC with Dick Robinson sponsored the concert. Robinson was rock and roll in Hartford at the time. It was great.
Q: You grew up in West Hartford so are you nervous or excited about performing in front of friends here?
A: It’s great. Kingswood-Oxford, where I went to school, is bringing a whole group to the show Friday and it is wonderful they are coming. It really is great to be back here. My footprints are all over this town.
Q: And what footprints have you revisited since you’ve been back?
A: Well, I did come back to West Hartford many, many times because my parents lived here up until seven or eight years ago. My dad was chief of staff at St. Francis. I got in at 3 p.m. and went to Max’s for lunch. I plan to do my morning run at the reservoir in West Hartford. I’m having breakfast Friday with my dear friend Jim Battaglia. He was a buddy when I was PR director at Waterbury Hospital and he was at Hartford Hospital. We are close friends. I was also PR head at the Red Cross in Farmington.
Q: Interesting career path.
A: I lived backwards.
Q: What do you like about your character Billy Flynn?
A: I love this character. He fascinates me. He is one of the more complicated characters, elegant and dangerous and there are moments of paternal quality in him. If you play him just as a slick lawyer he is a one note character but if you look at the script very carefully there is evidence of a deeper, more complicated personality. He is a Johnnie Cochran, you have to get into his mind.
Q: How did your life in Connecticut contribute to your success as an actor?
A: I happened to grow up around a lot of successful men so when it came to doing something that was as dangerous and questionable as entertainment, I went into it to be a success. I was able to fall back on the examples I saw in West Hartford. Beyond being an actor, a husband and father, too. West Hartford was an enormously important part of my growing up, the experiences there contributed to a sense of success, refinement and deeper value.
Q: You and your wife have a five-and-a-half year old son. Would you like to see him go into acting?
A: He just did his first performance! He dancing with his kindergarten class to Katy Perry’s “Fireworks.” he danced with his class to Katy Perrys fireworks. My wife posted the video on Facebook and he ran into my office the other day and said “Daddy, 26 people LIKED me!” that was the most important thing to him and he was so excited he went into the hallway and performed the dance for me. This was the first time he performed and I think he was enchanted and really excited about it. It was one of the things that burst him through his shell. He was so shy so this was his coming out party.
Q: Would you do a Seinfeld reunion?
A: I would but am sure they won’t ever do one. Larry David attempted one.
Q: Best memories of West Hartford?
A: West Hartford was the safest place in the world and I remember being in second grade and able to roam freely around downtown. LaSalle Music was the center of rock and roll and that’s where you went for albums and equipment. I took my guitar lessons there. It was an amazing time.
Q: Something no one knows about you?
A: I was 14 or so and my brother and I got our bicycles and rode to the Massachusetts border and back. We lived near Bishop’s Corner at the time.
A: Just to say we did. We never told my parents.
“Chicago” plays at the Bushnell through Sunday. For ticket information go to www.bushnell.org
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