Jerry Springer in character for 'Chicago'

Musical's run at Fox Theatre starts on Tuesday

Jerry Springer, king of trash TV, is singing a classic country tune.

“Put your sweet lips, a little closer to the phone ...” he intones. The Jim Reeves hit from 1960 is a long way from the show tunes Springer has been belting all summer, but at least he’s not so nervous about singing in front of strangers anymore.

Today, Springer arrives at the Fox Theatre as Billy Flynn in the musical “Chicago,” a role he first performed this summer at the Cambridge Theatre in London. “I’ve always been performing in front of an audience, I’ve just never done the singing and dancing really,” Springer said. “Certainly the Billy Flynn role ... is more character singing, and that is what I’ve learned — don’t get up there and try to be Bing Crosby.”

Singing aside, the role has been a natural adjustment for Springer, who prides himself on disappearing, along with his famous television persona, into the part.

“What I’m happiest about is that they don’t chant ‘Jerry, Jerry, Jerry’ when I come out. At the end of the show, sometimes they do, but they respect the character of Billy Flynn and I really like that,” he said during a pre-opening visit last month.

Springer and Flynn do have a thing or two in common. Flynn is the slick criminal attorney in “Chicago” who comes to the aid of murderous housewife Roxie Hart. Springer is an attorney who has spent 19 years in Chicago helming “The Jerry Springer Show.”

In the musical’s final scene, as Flynn delivers his closing argument, Springer said he felt kind of like he was doing his “Final Thought” segment from the show.

“I really do understand how they thought of me,” Springer said. “Even though I’m not personally flamboyant, the character of my show is over the top.”

Springer has journeyed from politician to journalist to cultural icon — from his term as mayor of Cincinnati in the late ’70s to a ballroom dance competitor on Season 3 of “Dancing With the Stars.” But he is best known for presiding over some of America’s greatest dysfunctions each weekday afternoon.

“The Jerry Springer Show” first aired in 1991, a time when every talk show was trying to appeal to the same middle-age housewife demographic, Springer said. He decided to go young.

“Young people are much more open about their lives on the stage,” he said.

Soon, the show’s producers made “crazy” a mandate, he said. “If you call us with a fun, uplifting story, we are not allowed to put you on. We are required to send you to another show.”

But he is not complaining. As much controversy as the show has stirred over the years, it has been one of his greatest blessings. “I always joke saying it is the silliest thing to ever hit television, but I have to be respectful of it. Every opportunity I ever got was because of the crazy talk show,” he said.

That includes his turn on “Dancing With the Stars” and a gig as host of “America’s Got Talent.” “Of all the things I’ve ever done on television ... that is really me,” he said of the those appearances. “Basically, a clumsy schlub. I’m sure that’s how my family and friends see me.”

Theater audiences, however, will not see clumsy. As Flynn, Springer’s first moment on stage is when he comes bounding down the steps singing “All I Care About Is Love.” Nor will they see unprepared. He reads over the script every day to help him avoid drawing a blank. And before the show, he’s all business.

“I’m not fooling around backstage,” Springer said. “I just sit there alone. I really focus on Billy Flynn and get into a zone.”

The experience has helped Springer develop a great respect for stage actors.

“You don’t have to be talented to be on TV,” he said. “On stage, they sing, they dance, they act every night. They can’t miss a step, can’t miss a line. ... These are talented people.”

Springer hopes to blend in with the cast while offering something special in the role of Billy Flynn.

“When the audience walks out, you can feel it if they love the show,” he said. “It is the whole and you are part of the ensemble. If I am Billy Flynn, it has worked.”

“Chicago, the Musical”

Tuesday-Sunday, $20-$67.50. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. N.E. 404-881-2100,