July 06, 2014
PROVINCETOWN – Cheyenne Jackson called his Saturday appearance at The Art House a cross between TV’s “Inside the Actors Studio” and Feinstein’s nightclub in Manhattan.
Host-accompanist Seth Rudetsky figured that was as good a description as any.
Between them, the show was 90 minutes of talking about highlights of Jackson’s Broadway and TV careers, interspersed with about a dozen songs linked to interview topics.
Jackson was the second act in Mark Cortale’s “Broadway @ The Art House” series. The intimate setting showed Jackson (who swears that’s his real name) to be an engaging conversationalist and self-deprecating storyteller.
The show left no doubt that he’s a singer with tremendous style who can easily move between genres. His vocal range goes deep for Elvis-like tunes but can flip to a high, yowling falsetto; his dance moves go from sultry to hip-swiveling rock.
Rudetsky began the conversation at Jackson’s improbable Broadway start: winning the role as understudy to the two leads of the Tony Award-winning musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” on his first audition in New York. Jackson was 27, from a town of 1,200 people in northern Idaho, and had been selling ads in Seattle while doing theater.
Then two tragedies changed his perspective: the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the death of his brother’s 3-year-old.
“That rocked me to the core,” he said Saturday. “I didn’t want to be an old man and think ‘Why didn’t I try?’”
He had worked with Marc Kudisch in a show in Seattle, and the actor had told him to get in touch if he were ever interested in pursuing a New York career. Jackson took him up on the offer, signed with Kudisch’s agent, went on the audition and won the Broadway part even though he admitted he couldn’t tap-dance for a tap-dancing show. Three weeks of intense dance lessons later, Jackson was on Broadway.
Jackson performed a funny, fast rendition of “What Do I Need With Love?” from that show, leading into other highlights of his stage career.
Those included: “Breeze Off the River” from “The Full Monty,” the first Broadway show he ever saw – a song that reminded him of his father’s acceptance of him being gay; “Something About You” from “Altar Boyz,” for which he brought up on stage one of the few women in the audience; and “A Little Less Conversation” from “All Shook Up,” which gave him his first lead role.
Jackson was performing in “Finian’s Rainbow” (the Art House audience got to hear “Old Devil Moon”) when Tina Fey wrote a part for him on “30 Rock.”
That led to four years of recurring roles on that sitcom and Saturday’s gravel-voiced impression of Alec Baldwin’s pieces of curt advice (“You’re in my light”) that Jackson says helped make him a better actor.
Jackson also has strong admiration for Fey.
“The way the show worked was that she let everybody think they were the smartest person in the room when she was the smartest in the room.”
Jackson is also known on TV for “Glee,” and he segued easily into pop “Teenage Dream” after mentioning both the show and his fiancé, whom he called “the love of his life.”
He clearly feels lucky to be in a good place in his life now, after multiple recent changes that included a nasty divorce, getting sober, and moving to the West Coast to be near his family and change his career.
In his darker periods of “self-loathing,” Jackson said he became a songwriter as catharsis.. He shared one of his own songs, “Mr. Lonely Boy,” before he and Rudetsky dueted on “Suddenly, Seymour,” from “Little Shop of Horrors” – part of a new movie-themed concert with orchestras that Jackson will start performing later this month in San Francisco.
Those concerts are part of a new path after a couple of years he described as both the best and worst of his life.
So the sentiments must hit home from both his encore, Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and the torchy opening song of “Feeling Good”: “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me and I’m feeling good.”Tags: actor, concert, movie, music, singer, tv