by Mariah Castillo
If you sit on the big red steps in Times Square and look to your right, there’s a chance that you’ll be staring into a big, airbrushed face of Billy Ray Cyrus. There’s also a big possibility that you’re confused as to why this one-hit wonder is billed for one of the longest running musicals in America.
Maybe some of you cringed at the thought of Billy Ray Cyrus trying to make a comeback. Maybe you were excited. There may have also been some of you who wanted to see the musical, either indifferent to the stigma around Cyrus or willing to give him a chance.
I was part of the last group of people. Then again, who would turn away a free ticket to a Broadway musical? As one of the lucky few who won in the Urban New York lottery, I was excited to take a break from studying and watch Chicago on Broadway. As a group of about ten students from different Columbia Colleges, we walked down to West 49th Street, where we were bombarded by bright lights and big black and white posters for the musical. One of the signs wrapped around the overhang of the Ambassador Theatre said, of course, in big, bold letters, “FEATURING BILLY RAY CYRUS.” You literally couldn’t walk past the building without a reminder of the special guest who took the role of Billy Flynn, the charismatic lawyer for the famed murderesses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly.
So, for all the buzz and publicity going on about the country singer’s Broadway performance, did Cyrus deliver? My answer is a big fat NO.
He wasn’t that great an actor; many of the appearances were very stiff. Cyrus also can’t hold a candle to the rest of the cast in terms of singing. What amazed me right in the beginning of the musical was how Amra-Faye Wright, who played Velma, could be clearly heard among nine other singers. You could barely hear Cyrus in his solo “All I Care About” among a group of the same size. He played it too safe sometimes, resulting in his character becoming very flat and uninteresting with a small vocal range, instead of the swanky, charismatic lawyer Billy Flynn is supposed to be.
The audience reacted appropriately, too. During the curtain call and bows, Cyrus made his “bow,” which was (I kid you not) two peace signs and a pout, and the audience clapped less loudly. Even Cory English, the actor who played the Roxie’s bumbling, socially awkward, husband, received a much louder ovation for his performance.
Overall, while Cyrus’ performance wasn’t a total train wreck, it wasn’t anywhere near Broadway-worthy. But, don’t let that stop you from buying a ticket; the other performers made up for his pitfalls ten-fold, and the musical overall is funny, engaging, and overall incredible. I was not disappointed in this performance of Chicago.
Now, if they can only find a better Billy Flynn…
Mariah Castillo is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.