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Robert Cuccioli: Holding Out for a Hero

ROBERT CUCCIOLI is holding out for a hero at Arci's Place. An interview with Leslie (Hoban) Blake.

By New York City
Here are two facts you probably didn't know about Robert Cuccioli, unless you are a card-carrying member of his fan club (see below): He almost always wears cowboy boots, and he didn't plan to be an actor. His St. John's degree was in finance, and he worked for E.F. Hutton for three years.

"You know how it is," says Cuccioli. "I paid for the darn degree, so I used it. But, when I talked, nobody listened." Hard to believe, because once the darkly handsome leading man started singing, everybody listened--and wanted more. Still, he moonlighted for a year and a half, working days on Wall Street while starring in The Merry Widow, The Red Mill, and Babes in Toyland at night (with the Light Opera of Manhattan) before quitting his day job to pursue acting full time.

His overnight Broadway success in Jekyll & Hyde came after 13 years of recurring roles on soaps (All My Children and One Life to Live) and episodic television (including Baywatch), plus leads in almost two dozen Off-Broadway and regional shows. "For 10 years," he recalls, "the Paper Mill Playhouse was my home away from home." (Cuccioli did seven shows there, including 1776, Oklahoma! and several productions of Jesus Christ Superstar.) He also co-starred in a tour of Camelot, playing Lancelot to Richard Harris' King Arthur, as well as Off-Broadway in And the World Goes Round and a much vaunted revival of The Rothschilds. "I've been kicking around for quite awhile," he says with a grin.

It was way back in 1982 that he first acquired the aforementioned fan club--which ultimately grew to include many "Jekkies" as the return visitors to J&H have been dubbed. "Jekyll & Hyde was both a blessing and a curse," muses Cuccioli. "Of course, it gave me incredible visibility [he won the Drama Desk and Outer Critic Circle Awards in 1996, plus a Tony nomination and Chicago's Joseph Jefferson Award during the subsequent tour]; but, unfortunately, some people may think that's all I can do." Setting out to prove them wrong, he moonlighted (again) in a couple of films during the J&H run, including Woody Allen's' Celebrity and the soon-to-be-released indie The Stranger (in which he plays the eponymous lead opposite Roxanna Zal) .

Since he parted company with both Jekyll and Hyde last January, Cuccioli's varied projects have included a non-singing role as a rugged pirate on the SciFi channel's Sliders and the American premiere of a new, Olivier Award-nominated musical, Enter the Guardsman; last summer, he co-starred with Dana Reeve at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival in Scott Wentworth's musical adaptation of the Alfred Lunt-Lynne Fontanne Broadway hit comedy (and their only film) The Guardsman, by Ferenc Molnar. Minus Reeve, Enter the Guardsman is now set to begin previews on May 9 (and to play through June 4) in the Vineyard Theatre space.

So, Cuccioli is moonlighting once again: On April 4, he began a two and a half week run of his debut cabaret show, Hero at Arci's Place; and, on April 10, rehearsals begin for Enter The Guardsman. "I don't want to say too much about either project," he says, "because I'd like everyone to be surprised." In person, the actor--still pony tailed and sporting well-worn brown suede cowboy boots, but none of his brooding J&H persona--is a charmer. He certainly charmed the audience at the 14th annual Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs (MAC) awards, performing "Larger than Life" by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (from My Favorite Year), which is featured in Hero. In this wonderful song, the singer finds a hero "as big as a Buick" in an old swashbuckler on video; he also speculates on the possibility of being the "bastard son of Errol Flynn."

The theme of Cuccioli's cabaret show is our overwhelming need for heroes. And the character he plays in Enter the Guardsman is an actor who is, himself, "larger than life." So the actor-singer seems to have a definite motif going, at least through June 4.

P.S. A quick word to the wise: Don't plan on seeing Hero the weekend of April 14 and 15. Cuccioli's fan club has bought out the house!


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