MaxCVE Chicago 1200x450
MaxCVE Chicago 1200x450

Max Clayton and Max Von Essen on Joining Broadway Cast of Chicago

It’s “All That Jazz” to the Max! Tony nominee for An American in Paris Max von Essen and Broadway veteran Max Clayton recently joined the long-running revival of Chicago. Von Essen plays the suave and sweet-talking lawyer Billy Flynn, while Clayton portrays Roxie Hart’s lover Fred Casely. NY1 News entertainment journalist Frank DiLella recently caught up with the pair right before Chicago’s 27th Anniversary on Broadway, which took place on Tuesday, November 14.

Max von Essen, this isn’t your first experience with Chicago — you were a member of the first national tour way back when.

MAX VON ESSEN: It was my first big tour, in 1999. I played Mary Sunshine, which was crazy because no one knew I had a voice like that. There was an assistant at my agency at the time who I went to high school with, and I used to always joke when I was in chorus and sing along with the sopranos, and this assistant remembered that I had this weird soprano trick and she told my agent. And I went in for Mary Sunshine and I booked it!

Max von Essen in Chicago. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

That was early on in Chicago’s history. Who was on tour with you?

MVE: Ann Reinking was on that tour for a bit. Sandy Duncan, Belle Calaway, Hal Linden, Adrian Zmed, Greg Jbara. It was wild.

Was Billy Flynn always on your radar?

MVE: I thought it would be a perfect role — it’s a perfect combination of so many things I love. I love the show Chicago and I love that we’re telling the story in the “style” of performance and in this vaudeville style. Once I was a little older and had the maturity for this role, yes, I really wanted to do it. It was an absolute bucket-list item and I was waiting for the right opportunity.

How about you, Max Clayton? As a dancer, was Chicago on your radar?

MAX CLAYTON: Yes. It’s always been on my radar, and it was this dream bucket-list show — yet I never thought I would have the chance to do it. I grew up idolizing Bob Fosse and his style, but I never felt like I was in his world. But I was lucky to work with people like [choreographer] Andy Blankenbuehler, who branched out of Fosse’s style and created his own style of dance. But to be a part of the Fosse legacy is such a treat.

Max Clayton in Chicago. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Tell me more. What does it mean to be a part of the Fosse-Chicago legacy?

MC: I’ve been in the show for a few days now, and seeing the weight that Ann Reinking and Bob Fosse hold in these people’s hearts, that’s why people have been in the show for years. Because these people are carrying the torch and it’s an honor to work with them and be on stage with them. It’s the greatest gift, to get to do this.

Max and Max, you both joined the show on Broadway at the same time!  

MVE: It all happened very quickly. The offer came the week before they needed me. And by the time we worked out details, the script and the rehearsal schedule came two days before I was starting. So I get this email and I see “Max,” “Max,” “Max” all over it. I was like, Max Clayton?! And I see that Max Clayton is going in as Fred Casely at the same time — I got so excited! We’re industry pals, so it’s a nice opportunity to go beyond that and have someone share this experience with you.

MC: When Max reached out to me right before we started rehearsals, it was comforting. When you join a company, you’re stepping into a family that’s so close, and you have to figure out your way of fitting into the puzzle and making it your own and not rocking the boat too much. And doing it with someone like Max is so nice. We rehearsed together and were put in together — it’s special.

Max von Essen, you mentioned Ann Reinking. She helped helm this revival of Chicago and opened the revival as Roxie. There’s a beautiful tribute to Ann when you walk into the lobby of the Ambassador Theatre. What do you remember about working with Ann?

MVE: I remember her level of commitment. You never saw her back away or back down. It was a showbiz work ethic. She was from another era; the commitment, the talent, and care — it all came first. I was blown away watching her every night on stage.

How about working with the current Roxie Hart, Chicago legend Charlotte d’Amboise?

MVE: Legend! She’s someone who has been performing the role of Roxie on and off for 20-plus years. I think she opened the first national tour. I don’t know if there is any one performer who has revisited a role every year for the last 20-plus years. She is so connected to this legacy of dance, and Ann Reinking. And it’s so unique to have her on stage and to play off of her and to have these experiences with her. I literally cannot believe I have this honor. I think she’s brilliant in the role.

Max C., I saw you posted a photo with Charlotte on Instagram right when you started performances in the show.

MC: I met Charlotte on my first day at Chicago and she is someone I always loved from afar. We have so many mutual friends, and her Cassie in the A Chorus Line revival changed something within me. When that Instagram photo was taken, my dresser took that photo of us, and I didn’t know it was being taken. That was our first-ever connection. And when I tell you I feel at home with her — I feel like I’ve known her my whole life.

On November 14, Chicago celebrated 27 years on Broadway! What’s the secret to its staying power?

MVE: First you have to have a great score, you have to have a great book. People walk out of the theatre and they’re already singing “All That Jazz” because Kander and Ebb wrote an incredible score, and Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb wrote an incredible book that stands the test of time. But I do think that we’ve tapped into a story that’s timeless for Americans. This show is about two women in the 1920s and Kander and Ebb and Fosse wrote this in the ’70s — and we’re still fascinated by celebrity, with true crime, the spectacle of our legal system, and people getting off for crimes that are televised. It’s an interesting story that engages people that’s told in a creative vaudeville format, and the songs are strong. Every aspect of it is strong.

MC: It’s one of the greatest musicals ever written.

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