As Broadway and Off-Broadway begin to reopen, Playbill is reaching out to artists to see how they are physically and creatively responding to a changed world.
The series continues with Tony winner Paulo Szot, who recently returned to the role of slick lawyer Billy Flynn in the Broadway production of the Tony-winning revival of Chicago, which resumed performances at the Ambassador Theatre September 14. The actor, also an opera favorite, made his Broadway debut as Emile de Becque opposite Kelli O'Hara in Lincoln Center Theater’s 2008 staging of South Pacific, winning Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Theatre World Awards for his performance. Szot's more recent roles include Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, Juan Peron in Evita, Escamillo in Carmen, Almaviva in Marriage of Figaro, Germont in Traviata, the title roles in Don Giovanni and Onegin, and Sharpless in Madama Butterfly. Among his upcoming appearances are Thanksgiving week shows of Una Noche Encantada at 54 Below, Chicago in his native São Paulo, a New Year’s Eve concert in Warsaw, and La Boheme in Puerto Rico.
What is your typical day like now?
We all have been away for so long. Now, all my energy is focused on bringing the best I can to the performance.
What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
There are so many choices these days. Usually, I am the one who’s always asking people around what should I watch or read next. :)
How did this return engagement as Billy Flynn come about?
Well, I opened in Chicago in January of 2020; after four weeks I had a previous contract to perform in Monte Carlo with Kurt Weill’s Street Scene, but my contract with Chicago was to continue in March for nine more weeks. The pandemic happened, and we all know what happened. So, now they invited me to come back, which made me absolutely thrilled!
Is there any part of the role or the show that speaks differently to you now following the events of the past 18 months?
We are all transformed after these long and difficult months. It affected us all personally and, consequently, as performers. I think that the key feeling was “empathy.” I am sure that Billy will bring that to many moments in the show.
How do you feel about returning to live performance?
Honored, thrilled, and thankful. We are all doing everything, following all the protocols to be able to return. I will cry when I first see the audience in the theatre, that’s for sure…
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to a theatre?
I would say what I say to myself: Be vaccinated, wear a mask or a double mask, get tested, sanitize your hands whenever is possible, and after all that, come to the show! We are all waiting for you.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow actors, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
We need to keep thinking as a community and follow all the rules to do what is the best for all.
I think that we should remember this all the time. Respect the need of the moment, make sacrifices for a bigger good, and respect others just like you’d like them to respect you. Be kind.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
Nobody deserved to be going through what we all had to experience during these last months. It was a catastrophe when we still didn’t have the vaccines. Thankfully, science and doctors did everything they could in record time. Now, we do have vaccines for all—that is a relief. But we need to find the strength to keep going and to keep safe. No one is alone on this. Let’s keep strong and compassionate.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past year-and-a-half that you didn't already know?
Of course, in the crazy world that we all live in, the tendency is to take care of your life and the ones close to you. It was a time to open up the view and to see beyond your own small circle. A global vision was something that in my case become a priority. Being human is always a work in progress…