I first experienced diva Cheryl Freeman as the cross-dressing heroine of the Duke Ellington/William Shakespeare hybrid musical Play On! When I use the term "diva," I mean it in the sense that Freeman is a hell of a singer and also a powerful actress. She made her auspicious Broadway debut as The Acid Queen in The Who's Tommy and never worked a day job again. After Play On! closed, Freeman went to fight in The Civil War and won both Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations for her performance. Now, this attractive and talented chanteuse is starring in Living in the Wind, a new play about slavery by playwright Michael Bradford at the American Place Theatre. With or without music to back her up, Freeman always has a very strong voice, as she revealed in our recent telephone interview.
Tell me about Living in the Wind.
The play shows us glimpses of slavery, the ugliness of it. I play Sarah, an emancipated slave. Sarah marries her husband and he walks out on her wedding night. When he appears 12 years later and tries to find a life together with her, Sarah is forced to deal with all of her feelings. She tries to create a safe place for herself in the world but is still carrying around all of the pain and grief and issues of her past as a slave. It's a wonderful piece with a great cast; Chad Coleman, Lizan Mitchell, Keisha Sharp, and Nathan Hamilton are just some of my co-stars.
So, I guess this isn't a musical?
No, not at all! Everybody is always trying to get me to sing, but not this time.
Is it scary for you to be doing a straight dramatic role?
Actually, no. The only thing scary about doing this show is the space. It's so small! I am used to playing to thousands of people. This is Off-Broadway. You might as well sit in my lap or eat in my kitchen; that's how intimate the space is.
You've done a number of Broadway shows.
I have done some film and TV, too. I was in the movies Fresh and Dead Presidents, and I provided the voice of the muse Melpomene in Disney's Hercules.
And I'll bet you've been on Law & Order.
Would you believe that I have never been on that show? But I did do New York Undercover. You cannot be a New York based actor without having done at least one of those series.
If you weren't acting, what would you be doing?
You cheat! You know that's not what I meant. If you weren't a performer, what would you be doing?
Okay, are you ready for this? Farming.
Yes. I would grow my own food, fish in a lake. I love anything outdoors. I am a real nature girl. If you ever want to find me, just look outside! In fact, I just woke up, and I am outside already.
In pajamas or a nightgown?
No! I am actually wearing a jacket with a hood. I'm standing here watching my neighbor in his underwear. He's, like, 500 years old. I wish he would put on some clothes!
Boxers or briefs?
Well, as long as I live across from this guy, then boxers. Please, boxers!
Do your prefer to wear skirts or pants?
Anything that stretches. I am the spandex queen!
Heels or sneakers?
Give me a pump any day. Is it bizarre that, with everything I said before, I love heels?
No. I can see you now in stretch pants and high-heeled shoes, singing and running a tractor-trailer on your farm.
What a picture! Who knows, maybe one day I will live on a farm. But I love good restaurants. I need to be near good restaurants.
Maybe you can lease a small portion of Central Park. Then you could farm during the day and eat at Café Des Artistes at night?
Oh, I love that place! But don't have the bone marrow.
The bone marrow. Seriously, it's a dish there. My boyfriend had it. It's...odd.
Thanks for the tip. Is your neighbor still out there in his underwear?
Yeah, now he's feeding his birds.
Your show is opening tonight. Are you nervous about that?
Nope. The only thing making me nervous right now is my neighbor.