Stage notes: Ohio State star Eddie George trades gridiron for spotlight in ‘Chicago’; Akron Symphony, youth perform this weekend

Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George said performing in eight shows a week as shark lawyer Billy Flynn in the musical tour Chicago can be as grueling as his professional football career was, but it’s worth it.

“It feels like training camp, like the old days when we had two-a-days,” said George, speaking by phone from the tour in Milwaukee of his eight-show week.

“It’s endless. You really have to love doing the work in order to enjoy it and feel like you’re successful and getting all that you can out of it.”

George, who performs in the Chicago national tour in select cities, will make his star turn in Akron on Tuesday and Wednesday at E.J. Thomas Hall, followed by performances in Durham, N.C., May 12-14. The special engagement follows appearances in cities in Iowa and Tennessee earlier this year and in Los Angeles and Arizona last year.

The NFL legend and Ohio State University standout made his Broadway debut as Billy Flynn last winter for eight weeks, which led to his engagements in the tour as his schedule allows. After George’s retirement from football in 2006, he was drawn to acting and made a serious decision to learn the fundamentals of the craft.

He started studying with an acting coach as well as a voice teacher in Nashville, Tenn., where he lives with his wife, Tamara Johnson. He just finished playing Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun at Nashville Repertory Theatre and also formed the troupe Actors by George there.

“It resonated with me on so many levels,” George said of acting. “I still see my acting coach to this day.”

He continued, “I just found an affinity to tell stories. I really enjoy a live setting. It really enabled me to feel alive again like I did playing the game of football.”

George had a nine-year career in the NFL, playing for the Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers and the Dallas Cowboys.

Acting, he said, is about teamwork, camaraderie and intense focus. And it’s also a workout.

“You are physically and emotionally drained if you are totally present. It just requires that much out of you to tell that story in a truthful way,” he said of performing in a musical.

George was inspired by seeing the Chicago tour in Nashville to seek out the iconic role of Billy Flynn. “It felt like I had enough chops strong enough to do it, to pull it off,” he said.

His agent got him an audition in New York, which led to his Broadway appearance last year.

“He’s charismatic. He never loses. He has some really great songs to sing telling about himself,” George said of his power-hungry, celebrity lawyer role. “He’s a grand manipulator. He’s a silver-tongued prince of the courtroom.”

Dance is another element that this former football player has added to his repertoire. But George said he’s not shy about dancing. Flynn’s big Razzle Dazzle number is his clear favorite.

“It’s all about beguiling the audience, mesmerizing them, putting on this grand show in the courtroom,” George said.

In the 1920s-set story, housewife and nightclub dancer Roxie Hart murders her lover. Desperate to avoid conviction, she dupes the public and her rival cellmate, Velma Kelly, by hiring Chicago’s slickest criminal lawyer to transform her crime into sensational headlines.

Chicago is the longest-running musical revival in Broadway history, with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and a book by Ebb and Bob Fosse. Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday shows in Akron are $20-$85. Call 330-253-2488 or see www.broadwayinakron.com.

Akron Symphony

The Akron Symphony Orchestra will join three Akron choirs at 8 p.m. Saturday to perform Mendelssohn’s grand drama Elijah at E.J. Thomas Hall. The Akron Symphony Chorus, Summit Choral Society and the University of Akron Concert Choir will combine to create a 200-voice chorus to perform Mendelssohn’s masterpiece.

Elijah, which Mendelssohn composed in the spirit of his Baroque predecessors Bach and Handel, debuted in 1846 at the Birmingham Festival in England. The debut helped Mendelssohn earn a reputation as one of the greatest composers of sacred music.

Soloists Saturday will be soprano Kathryn Papa, mezzo-soprano Kim Lauritsen, tenor Timothy Culver, bass Brian Keith Johnson and child soloist Amber Cocchiola from the Performance Choir of the Summit Choral Society’s children’s choir program. Maestro Christopher Wilkins will discuss the program at 7 p.m. during Preview from the Podium.

Cost is $20-$55. Call 330-535-8131 or see www.akronsymphony.org.

The Akron Youth Symphony will perform its spring concert at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Giese Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Mount Union in Alliance. The Youth Symphony, under the direction of Eric Benjamin, will present selections including the March from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, Schubert’s Rosamunde and more.

Violinist Ayaka Coffman, winner of the Akron Youth Symphony’s 2017 Concerto Competition, will be the soloist for Bruch’s Concerto No. 1. Coffman is a freshman at Hoban High School.

Tickets are $10; children ages 10 and under are free. See www.akronsymphony.org or call 330-535-8131.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.

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Stage notes: Ohio State star Eddie George trades gridiron for spotlight in ‘Chicago’; Akron Symphony, youth perform this weekend

Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George said performing in eight shows a week as shark lawyer …