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Memphis Flyer Amos and Michael

Michael Tucci talks about his role in Chicago and how he broke into show business.

By C.D. Wolder

OCTOBER 12, 1998:  Chicago centers around one Roxie Hart, a saucy nightclub dancer who plugs her lover and then revels in the celebrity the trial brings her.

Michael Tucci plays Amos Hart, Roxie’s put-upon but loyal spouse in the touring company of the musical, which hits The Orpheum October 13th. And like Roxie, Tucci knows a thing or two about crime – illegalities indirectly led to his acting career.

The Brooklyn-born Tucci always loved theatre, but his family wanted him to be in a safer profession, one he wouldn’t go broke in. “My mother kept saying, ‘What do you think, you’re Frank Sinatra?’ When I was growing up, no matter what I did wrong, I got hit ’cause I wasn’t Frank Sinatra.”

So Tucci went to law school, passed the bar exam, and became for a brief period an assistant district attorney in New York. “I was an assistant D.A. for 10 minutes,” he says. He left law after he and a fellow assistant D.A. were asked to throw their first case by their boss, who was subsequently indicted.

After leaving law, Tucci desperately wanted to act in Godspell, but was having trouble figuring out a way to get an audition.

Then he got an idea. “I took my high-school picture, and on the back of it, I wrote along with some other roles ‘Carolina Rep, The Pajama Game.’ I did it in high school, I’m not lying. I don’t know why I put Carolina Rep.” He got the producer’s name and called him up, but he wouldn’t take Tucci’s call. “I found his office, went upstairs, and put [my picture] under the door ’cause they wouldn’t let me in,” Tucci recounts

As he waited for a slow elevator, the office door opened and out came a woman who asked him if he did Finian’s Rainbow at North Carolina Rep or in high school. He admitted he’d done it in high school. Her husband, it turned out, played Finian in that very production. She invited Tucci in, they talked, and eventually she was responsible for getting him the audition that nabbed him his first Broadway show, Godspell.

Tucci’s landing of Chicago’s Amos Hart was no less serendipitous. Fran and Barry Weissler, Chicago’s producers, once ran a children’s theatre where Tucci earned his Equity card. “And then, 25 years later, I walked into a room [to audition], and Fran’s sitting there and looking at me,” he says. “You can imagine how she says, ‘I know you.’” She asked him what he thought of Amos. As Tucci remembers it, he replied, “Well, I think he’s a nice guy.” To which Weissler responded, “He’s the nicest guy in the world. So are you, right?” “I said, ‘Yeah.’ And boom, boom, boom. It’s all connected.”

Amos was a part Tucci had wanted to do since seeing the original production of Chicago in 1975 when Amos was played by Barney Martin, who played Jerry Seinfeld’s father on television. He played Amos, Tucci says, “right from the heart … very honestly.” Molding his own performance on Martin’s did not go unnoticed. A reviewer said to him, “You remind me of Barney Martin,” a comment Tucci considers great praise.

Amos’ song “Mr. Cellophane” is in Tucci’s opinion “one of the best-written in the show.” The audience embraces Amos, Tucci feels, because “he’s the only one with morals, and he’s always being crapped on.”

Chicago’s schedule is grueling, with weeks in Toronto, Seattle, Denver, etc., but for Tucci, it isn’t enough. “I wish it were longer [runs] … You know, a week – it’s just you come in, you unpack, the critics love you or kill you. And then you move on to the next place.” A family man, he and his family have had to adapt. He had his two daughters, ages 3 and 9, with him (with the help of a nanny) for most of the summer, seeing his wife Kathleen as her schedule permitted.

Tucci says he and the company – led by Stephanie Pope as Velma Kelly – are excited about coming to Memphis, claiming that their production is “actually better than the Broadway show right now.”

And while Tucci has worked in films such as Grease and television programs such as The Garry Shandling Show, he’s hoping to upgrade his Amos to Broadway. And he promises to be very accommodating.

“I would be no aggravation,” he vows. “I don’t demand a limo. I’ll stay at my aunt’s house instead of a hotel.”

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