In June 2013, Paul C. Vogt was on stage at the Ambassador Theatre playing Amos in a production of Chicago. This June, Vogt was playing the same role in the same production. Nothing unusual about that. In the history of the long-running revival of the Kander and Ebb musical, many performers have left and then returned to the show, often playing the same role at several instances over the years.
The difference with Vogt is that between those two stage assignments he was diagnosed with, fought and recovered from cancer.
“It was driving me nuts not being about to work,” said Vogt — who has also acted on Broadway as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray — about the period in between the two Chicagos. “I said to my agent, ‘Can I do voiceovers?’ I really wanted to work. I never went out. It was seven months altogether. I didn’t go to a restaurant. I didn’t go to a movie.”
Vogt suspected something was wrong in September 2013. Following a nose and ear infection, he neck began to swell and he underwent a biopsy. “They found out I had Hodgkin's lymphoma.”
From then on, his life changed rapidly. Following Columbus Day weekend, he was set up with an appointment with the UCLA oncology department. On Thursday, he told the producers about his situation. On Friday, he gave his last show. On Saturday, he flew out to Los Angeles. And on Monday, he was in the hospital being examined. He started chemotherapy a week later.
“We didn’t really tell the cast, because I didn’t want it to be a big cry-fest,” he said, adding that a notice was posted explaining that he had departed for medical reasons. “And then I was gone.”
What followed was eight rounds of chemotherapy, each consisting of five-day periods in which he was fed by a 24-hour drip. Between each session was a two-week period in which to rest. Ironically, it was the rest periods, rather than the treatments, that were the hardest. “When you go home for two weeks is when it hit,” he explained.
“I feel very lucky, because I never had a superbad reaction,” he continued. “I was tired. I’d get a little nauseous and that’s probably the worst of it.”
Throughout the ordeal, Vogt had few worries as far as the expense of his cancer treatment was concerned. His savings were cleaned out but the health insurance he received through Actors’ Equity did the rest.
“So far, it’s been fairly manageable,” he said. “I’ve been lucky. It’s wiped my assets down, but, so far, I haven’t been denied anything.”
In time, the cancer receded. When he felt well enough to work, it was the producers of Chicago who first reached out. “Luckily they asked me to come back,” said Vogt. “It just timed out well. My legs are still weak. I’ve been going to physical therapy. You get some nerve damage in your toes and your fingers, and that’s from the chemo.”
Playing Amos again was a blessing. While a critical supporting role in the show, with a standout number in “Mr. Cellophane,” Amos is not on stage as much as the other lead characters and doesn’t participate in any of the strenuous dance numbers.
“It’s not physically taxing,” he said. “It’s just where I want to be. But each show I feel I’m giving more and more. My balance is a little off, but with the physical therapy it’s coming back. I’m a little slow going up the stairs, but even that is getting better every day.”
He laughed, and then quipped: “Every day is physical therapy, going up to the dressing room!”
Vogt now feels ready to audition for radio and television work. In the meantime, he’s focusing on the work at hand. And this time, he means to work his contract with Chicago out, uninterrupted by cancer.
“I’m planning on not getting it again!” he joked.