Peter Lockyer Takes Us Through the Dazzle of “CHICAGO”

Peter Lockyer stars as lawyer Billy Flynn in “Chicago”. Photo Credit: Broadway San Jose
Cast member of touring production of hit musical Let’s us in on the intrigue and music of “Chicago”

Arturo Hilario

El Observador

Within the musical and film version of “Chicago”, lawyer Billy Flynn tries to get two lady murderers off scot free through his cunning skill and smart tongue. There’s a lot of good music and dancing along the way.

In the touring production of the hit show, Peter Lockyer plays Flynn, and with past roles in “Miss Saigon”, “Les Misérables” and “La Bohéme”, he says this role has certainly been different for him to portray, but nonetheless a great time.

With a love of teaching, and degrees to match, Lockyer initially was interested in both the arts and teaching it – but instead was pulled towards the stage. Since then he’s been on both Broadway and London’s West End, culminating in his current role as a charming lawyer in “Chicago”.

In the following Q&A Lockyer describes the ins and outs of the production, as well as why he feels “Chicago” feels even more relevant in today’s social climate than when it debuted more than 40 years ago.

Can you talk about how you became involved in the arts and how you ended up on Broadway? 

I got a master’s degree in creative writing and an undergraduate degree in Educational Theater and Music Education. I was interested in teaching, and when I thought I was going to teach I kept getting work as a performer. So, it never happened, but it could still someday, and every chance I get I still jump in a classroom and do what I can with students either in high school or college settings, where I can. I still enjoy that quite a bit. 

I started performing very early on. I moved from high school to New York City when I was 17 and I just started performing. It’s pretty much what I’ve done for 27 years now, and I continue to love the theater and I love it even more with every passing year. I think that it’s such a great avenue and venue for us to, someone said once, “art and theater holds a mirror up to us and shows us as we truly are.” And I think that’s what great art can do. I’m happy to be part of the theater and will always be. I also played it in London on the West End for two years. And that is and will always be a touchstone and an incredibly big part of my life. I did Le Mis in total for ten years of my life. So that show is a part of my DNA. I love it to death and will always love it, and I never got sick of it.

I never thought I’d be doing this role, playing Billy Flynn in “Chicago”. It’s not one that I ever looked at and said, “Oh that’s a role I’ll be doing.” this has been a complete and utter surprise and I’m having an absolute blast. He’s a slick rapscallion lawyer and I love playing him.

Can you give us your interpretation in the world within “Chicago”? 

This show is about Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly they’re merry murderesses, they both killed men and they’ve hired a lawyer, that’s the guy I play, to help them escape being in jail for the rest of their lives or getting hanged for their crimes. Billy is the kind of guy who is most interested and fascinated how he can package a criminal as a flawed human being so that the public can connect and can forgive them. And then hopefully acquit them. It’s how our justice system works to this day, it seems. We can paint a person as the same as us, as flawed, and we can get the judge and the jury to feel empathetic to them and see themselves in them, then maybe they can acquit them. Regardless of if they’re guilty of their crime. We can point to many cases in our history and our recent history where it’s been pretty darn clear that a crime has been committed and they are let free. Billy is very interested in finding ways to package all of that into a very glitzy way that the public can become fascinated with his clients and say, “Hey, they’re just like me. They shouldn’t go to jail, let them free.” 

How is that you go about creating your interpretation of the character of Billy Flynn for your performance?

What’s great is that I kind of came into the show somewhat blind a little bit. I had seen the show at encores when it was redone 22 years ago. I hadn’t seen it again, I saw the movie, so that I’m sure that had some subconscious inkling in my mind but I didn’t particularly think of Richard Gere’s performance as great as he was. We have to use the tools we have as ourselves and I was really thankful that Walter Bobbie came back to direct this company and it hasn’t personally any company in quite some time. So, it was great having the original director there. And so, he helped me find who Billy Flynn was in me and I was surprised to find out he’s not the nicest guy.

The material is written so perfectly that there’s no wasted words, it’s so tight that I kinda just have to get out of its way and let the work do the work. As soon as I try to do anything with it I think that’s when I sort of coddle the work. And I think it’s important for the work to just come through me and let the audience engage in that work themselves as opposed to me forcing it onto them. 

In this production, is there anything in particular that you really enjoy, whether as an audience member, on stage or behind the scenes? 

What’s really cool about this show is that when I was watching it in rehearsal I couldn’t believe how much I laughed. It’s so clever, so funny and you sort of see the sexy marketing that we think of, and that’s what the show is about, it’s a very sexy show. But when you come in, I don’t think audiences realize how much they’ll laugh. So, I enjoy that every night, and some of the laughs that come from things I say are just so enjoyable. Beyond that we have a cast that is phenomenal. We have our two leading ladies that, you’re just not going to get better than them on the stage. So, I could watch them every night and not get tired of watching how amazing they are. For me, it’s the humor and the cast that’s up there every night. 

So why would you recommend people check out “Chicago” when it comes to San Jose?

First of all, I’m excited to get to San Jose, I love San Jose. I have a sister that lives nearby, a sister and two nieces, so I’m excited to see them. But, listen, what’s great about traveling the country is the audiences respond regardless of where we are. They may be louder in other places, but I think this hits home in a time where we have a social conversation over what news is, and how we view lying and how we view criminal activity.

If you’re the type of person that likes to see social commentary on stage you’re going to get all of that in this show and you’re going to have a great conversation afterward. If you are a person that just likes to be entertained, you’ll get that as well. It’s amazing dancing. It’s amazing music, it’s sexy and it’s hilarious. I ran into a guy in the elevator who had seen the show and he said “Hey I’ve never seen a live show before and I just couldn’t believe how you guys had it all. You had these beautiful women, unbelievable dancing and the music’s so great and you were hilarious.”

And so, I think people are just surprised at how relevant this show is and it’ll continue to be because, oh boy we’re having crazy conversations in our lives now. And this was written in 1975 and the fact that it’s become more relevant now is a fascinating place we find ourselves in our country. I saw come on out, enjoy yourself, have a blast, and if you feel like having a great conversation afterwards you’ll have that as well.  

“Chicago” runs from November 15-18, 2018 at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts.