Chicago - London

The girls, guns, greed, glamour and glitz of prohibition-era Chicago come to London in this razzle-dazzle West End musical hit.

David Bedella on Jumping from Jerry Springer to Billy Flynn in London's Chicago

Illinois native David Bedella may be the first performer actually from Chicago to play the invitingly sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn in the London production of Chicago: The engaging 48-year-old has joined the long-running revival for a limited engagement through May 8 at the Cambridge Theatre. That’s the same playhouse where Bedella appeared in his 2004 Olivier Award-winning performance as a talk show host-turned-devil in Jerry Springer: The Opera, a star turn he repeated in concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2008. After his first four performances in Chicago, Bedella took time one Friday afternoon to talk theatrical showmanship, hopping the Atlantic, and giving the devil the best lines—or tunes.

Well done on being from Chicago and being in Chicago!
Thanks! [Laughs.] I suppose I’ll bring to it a certain authenticity. I hope so, at least.

How does it feel midway through your first eight-show week?
It’s a very scary ride, to be honest. Billy Flynn is silver-tongued and he’s expected to talk very quickly, very succinctly. He’s a master of language and has tons of dialogue, which is the most frightening thing in the world because the first things to go are the lines in your head [laughs]. And though I’m often out there on my own, I’m finding that there isn’t a lot of leeway; I can’t just go off on my own tangent. There are 20 people on that stage, and you’ve got fill your slot.

What’s nice is that you are joining the ever-increasing Chicago family.
It’s really great in that way. I got a letter from Bonnie Langford, who’s been begging for us to do the show together, and now I’m finally doing it and she’s not! But you know how the machine works: We’re bound to cross paths at some point.

It seems odd that you haven’t joined this production earlier, especially since the real Jerry Springer did his own West End stint as Billy two years ago.
Yes, I saw a little clip of it on YouTube. I was approached to do this twice before but it just never seemed to come together and, to be honest with you, I think my skills are a lot stronger today. I’ve learned over the years how to control the stage in a wholly different way, and I’m a great believer in the fact that the universe brings you things when you are ready for them.

It’s been noted that Billy is the latest in a line of devilish roles you have played, including the Devil himself in Jerry Springer: The Opera.
I don’t think of it that way at all. The thread that runs through all the roles I’ve played in the last seven years is that they’re all characters of great strength, and they are all called upon from the moment they step on to let the audience know, “I’m now the one on stage!” I spent two years [as Frank’n’Furter] in The Rocky Horror Show, and that was like a daily acting class. I thought, “I’m here now, and this is my game.” It sounds arrogant but I don’t mean it to be.

How do you look back on Jerry Springer: The Opera now?
Well, it was an extraordinary show and certainly opened the doors for me. I got to play Cadmus, Anthony Hopkins’ scribe, in [the film] Alexander, which only came about because Oliver Stone came and saw the show, and Holby City [the UK medical series, in which Bedella had a recurring role] was because the executive producer had been in, as well.

It must have been exciting to do a brief run of the show in New York.
Getting to do it in at Carnegie Hall, with Harvey Keitel, was such a treat. Harvey and I had worked together on a film here in London, Red Light Runners, which as far as I know is still in the can, in which I played a transvestite; Harvey and I had a relationship we’d built on the set. Then he saw Jerry Springer and came up to my dressing room and we hugged and I said that I was so glad he got to see me be more than just a tranny [laughs]. The next day on the set, he stopped the film and made an announcement about me to the company. When Harvey eventually got cast in Jerry Springer in the States, he told the producers, “I want David Bedella brought over from London.”

Did you see that as an opportunity to relocate to America?
Not really. I wasn’t actually ready to come back and put down roots in New York, and in any case I was involved with a Ben Elton series [Blessed] here at the time. And of course I had been on stage in New York before, usually cast as the third dancer from the right or a glorified ensemble player. I joined Smokey Joe’s Café on Broadway as an understudy after it had been opened several months—stuff like that. But from my first audition here, I knew London was an opportunity for me to create myself from scratch, so I rewrote my resume in order to better present myself as an actor. My skills went through a whole shift when I got here.

What brought you to London in the first place?
My partner [Pressley Sutherland] had been offered a job here as a vicar. I’d never been to London, but Pressley said, “Dave, you’re going to have to trust me on this,” and I thought, “OK, why not? What could be more advantageous in a way than selling everything you own and packing two suitcases and coming to England and starting anew?” All I’ve ever done here has been principal work, so I guess my hunch was right!