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Wednesday November 7, 2012

NEW YORK -- Billy Ray Cyrus is clutching a Red Bull for dear life and with good reason.

These are not take-it-easy times for the singer-songwriter. He’s in a very odd place for a country music star -- the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway, making his singing and dancing stage debut in the Tony Award-winning musical "Chicago."

"You can’t tire a man out who’s already tired," says Cyrus, 51, in the darkened theater after a recent rehearsal. Still, there’s something exhilarating in his eye. "Sometimes you’ve just got to step up to the plate to learn something new."

It’s a big step indeed for the man who brought us "Achy Breaky Heart" as well as his daughter Miley Cyrus. For seven weeks, Cyrus will be playing the ethically challenged lawyer Billy Flynn, a part played by Richard Gere in the film version of "Chicago." His run began Monday and ends Dec. 23.

Set in the 1920s, the musical has Bob Fosse-inspired choreography, skimpy outfits and killer songs.

If it seems that Kentucky-born Cyrus is really out of his element in a jazzy, bluesy musical, he’s quick to remind you that he was discovered in the early 1990s playing the Ragtime Lounge in Huntington, W.Va.

"Here I am, in some ways, I’m back to the ragtime only it’s a whole lot bigger and it’s in the middle of the center of the universe. It’s on Broadway but I’m back to my ragtime roots," he says.