By Tom Haraldsen
For many of us, we know John O’Hurley from his years playing J. Peterman on Seinfeld, or for famously winning the first season of Dancing with the Stars. But that’s only the beginning of the amazing talents that O’Hurley possesses, one reason he’s considered by many to be the most versatile entertainer of our time.
Now he’s bringing his hit show, A Man with Standards, to one of Utah’s newest venues—the DeJoria Center in Kamas. He will perform on Saturday, February 10, starting at 8 p.m. The program has been nominated for Best Show by BroadwayWorld, just the latest accolade for this Screen Actors Guild winning singer, actor, composer and pianist.
The genesis for Standards came shortly after O’Hurley had finished a three-week engagement at the famed Café Carlyle in New York City.
“A friend of a friend of a friend and I started talking, and we came up with the thought that music from the Great American Songbook could tell the story of my life,” O’Hurley told me. “Growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, those songs are a great retrospective on our country. I was lucky enough to be raised around men with standards, the idea of being a gentleman. My parents use to go out with friends for dinner and dancing, and everywhere you went, there seemed to be a five-piece combo and a supper club. I had that feeling after playing in the Carlyle.”
So singing the tunes of artists like Sinatra and Mancini, O’Hurley set out touring the country about two years ago. This will be the first time he’s told the story of his life and performed his show in Utah.
As he tells in Standards, “I remember that even at the age of 3, when people asked me what I wanted to be, I’d point to our black and white TV in the corner. I’d say, ‘Well l am an actor, so that’s what I’m going to be.’ I knew I was an actor. I’d see other kids on TV and knew that’s where I was headed. So my life was something where I connected the dots from there to there.”
At age 27, he took the giant leap of faith by moving to New York City, working in public relations for five years until “I realized I was living a lie. I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do.” He auditioned for his first show and was cast in 48 hours, a show called Eternal Love.
“It was a three-hour musical without a single laugh,” he recalled. “It was terrible, and it died a merciful death about six weeks after it opened. But I got my Equity card and an agent. Every time a see a fellow actor who was in that show, I stop and ask them ‘How are you?’ We all shared that experience together, and we have empathy for each other.”
His career continued to blossom, and he recalls singing to Frank Sinatra himself at 2:30 a.m. before an audience full of celebrities, all who had stayed around for that late hour to see him perform.
O’Hurley has done so many things that he says he sometimes feels “like the guy who’s trying to keep five plates spinning. Each thing I do satisfies a part of my brain.” He’s in a film called Swing Away that was shot in Greece and will soon be released, and he’s going back to Crete to film Red Door and Lemon Tree, another independent film about a young actress who goes back to her homeland to reconnect with her youth.
So what can audiences expect when they see A Man with Standards?
“I can promise three things,” he says, “music, laughter, and one tear. We’ve lost our sense of melody and lyric writing—all of that is gone. Nothing is memorable anymore. I’m a big fan of performances that lean towards the large, dramatic style of the standards. For me, it’s melody and lyrics. That’s what I bring to audiences with each performance.”