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Jerry Springer Makes Own Musical Debut in Chicago

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Six years after the premiere of the controversial West End musical in his name, US talk show host Jerry Springer (pictured) will make his own West End debut, playing super-slick lawyer Billy Flynn Chicago. Springer will join the cast of the Kander and Ebb musical at the Cambridge Theatre – where the announcement was made this morning - for a limited six-week stint from 1 June 2009.

Chicago will mark the first time that the 65-year-old Springer has performed on stage since appearing in student productions at university, though he has more recently demonstrated his toe-tapping abilities on Dancing with the Stars, the US equivalent of reality TV show Strictly Come Dancing. Despite being described as “Fred Flintstone meets Fred Astaire” by judge Bruno Tonioli, Springer made it through seven weeks of the competition.

Commenting on his new role in Chicago at a press briefing today, Springer described himself as having "a voice for newspapers and a face for radio", admitting the producers were "very brave" in choosing him for the role. "There aren't that many characters I could realistically play on stage, but as a lawyer and someone in showbusiness there are elements of Billy Flynn that I relate to ... it's a role that demands respect and I'm certainly not going to phone in my performance" he added.

Whatsonstage.com asked him whether he was ready for the rigours of performing in eight shows a week: "Well, they've already got a lottery going on which show I'll keel over in - so I guess if you want to see me you'd better book for early in the run!"

As Billy Flynn, Springer steps into shoes previously filled by the likes of Duncan James, Tony Hadley, Marti Pellow, Sacha Distel, Darius Danesh, John Barrowman, Henry Goodman, Maxwell Caulfield and David Hasselhoff in the London production, and Richard Gere in the 2002 Hollywood film version. No announcement has yet been made about who will play opposite Springer as Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, the two murderesses Billy Flynn defends in the musical.

The current revival of Chicago opened at the West End’s Cambridge Theatre (where the musical’s original London production ran for 603 performances from April 1979) on 28 April 2006, after eight-and-a-half years at the Adelphi Theatre. It won the 1998 Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Musical Production as well as the 1998 Critics' Circle Award for Best Musical.

Kander and Ebb’s 1975 musical is based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins and has a book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. The current stage revival, which transferred from Broadway, is directed by Walter Bobbie and designed by John Lee Beatty, with choreography by Ann Reinking in the style of Bob Fosse.

While unusual, Springer’s casting is sure to prove less controversial than Jerry Springer – The Opera, a satire based on Springer’s lurid US talk show. The expletive-laden musical, promising "triumph, tragedy and trailer trash as high art meets low", won a string of Best New Musical awards after its 2003 premiere at the National and West End transfer – to, coincidentally, the Cambridge Theatre – with Springer himself flying in from his home in Chicago for opening night. But its unedited 2005 television broadcast on BBC Two drew a record 45,000 complaints and provoked a protest campaign by Christian pressure groups who claimed it was sacrilegious. The West End run and a subsequent tour were cut short as a result.

- by Terri Paddock & Theo Bosanquet

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