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Jackson In Action

Xanadu star Cheyenne Jackson may be the hardest working man in New York. logo
Cheyenne Jackson
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
Is Cheyenne Jackson now the hardest working man in New York City? Eight shows a week, you can find him at the Helen Hayes Theater playing the lead role of Sonny in the hit Broadway musical Xanadu. But if that's not enough, the handsome and talented actor is constantly showing up at benefits, including the upcoming 24 Hour Musicals at Joe's Pub on January 21 and Broadway Backwards 3 at the American Airlines on February 4. He also has no qualms about making personal appearances -- he'll be at Broadway at Birdland with Scott Alan and friends on January 7, as well as at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Triangle on both January 10 for the new Xanadu CD signing and on January 14 to join Seth Rudetsky for a special event tied to his new book Broadway Nights. Not to mention performing with the Broadway Inspirational Voices. Plus, he's got a horror film Hysteria due out this spring, a television pilot in the can, and a possible new musical in the works. Still, Jackson took time from his busy schedule to talk to TheaterMania about all of these projects and more!

THEATERMANIA: Were you excited about doing the Xanadu CD?
CHEYENNE JACKSON: We really did it for the fans, but I have to say I love singing this music; it's what drew me to the project initially. I've always loved ELO. I think their work is melodic, memorable, and very beautiful. Even if one of their songs comes on my iPod when I'm at the gym, I'll stop and listen to it. I don't mind it sticking in my head. During the workshop, I became obsessed with "Don't Walk Away," and I was pretty heartbroken when they gave it to another character. So I was glad when it went back to being mine. But I also have to say, their music is very challenging. It's very rangy, and right on my break with a high pop sound; so I had to find a way to do it healthfully eight nights a week.

TM: So many of your castmates have suffered serious injuries, but so far, you seem to have stayed healthy. What's your secret? Did you have lots of roller skating experience?
CJ: We've all had injuries. I hurt my back a couple of weeks ago, and I had to miss a couple of shows. We all fall some time, but I think I've found a way to do it and not kill myself -- it's like sliding into home base. As a kid, we had Christian skate night at school every couple of weeks with the other schools in the area; they played songs by Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. But I hadn't done it as an adult until the workshop. Going into this show was so hard; my feet were so bloody at the beginning.

Cheyenne Jackson and Kerry Butler
in Xanadu
(© Paul Kolnik)
TM: How have you adjusted to having audience members on stage, especially at the beginning of the show when they're doing nothing but staring at your butt?
CJ: I've learned a lot from Kerry Butler; nothing throws her, she's very focused. But it's still a challenge for me and Tony Roberts. We keep each other focused. And it can be hard; a couple of nights ago, the stage was full of 9-year-olds, and after 10 minutes, they were fidgeting. One night, it was all drag queens, and it can be hard to say your lines with people behind you in outrageous costumes. And every night someone tries to break my concentration at the beginning; there's always someone catcalling or saying things like "nice ass" or trying to take photos. But now it's one of my favorite parts of the show, because it really forces me to focus on becoming Sonny.

TM: What was it like to be working during the Broadway strike when so many other shows were shut down?
CJ: It was really exciting to be working during the first four days of strike, since we were full to the hilt. A lot of our audiences were spillovers from other shows, and it was fun to play to different people who might not have chosen Xanadu. By the fifth or sixth day, it became bittersweet, because all of our friends still weren't working. And we didn't want to feel joy out of other people's misfortunes.

TM: Your show is known for having some of Broadway's most hardcore fans -- the Fanadus. Tell me about them.
CJ: We've done 260 shows, and Tony and I figured out some of them have seen 100 performances. At first, I thought it was a little strange, even obsessive. I could get why people might go see Star Wars 100 times; but not our show. But now, I think it's great that they love to dress up and feel like they're part of the show. Plus, any kind of word of mouth helps us; we knew it would be a hard sell, in part because of the movie. The other day, I heard a couple of old ladies walking by the theater, and one said: "What's Xanadu? And the other said: "I think it's French." But I think our momentum will really pick up during awards season!

TM: You do so many benefits and special events! Are you just the boy who can't say no?
CJ: I do say no, believe it or not, but even my mom tells me to give myself a break. The problem is there are so many things I care about, so many organizations that are near and dear to me, and I've worked so hard for people to want to see me, that I figure if it's going to make people come to an event if I show up for 20 minutes and sing a song, then it's hard for me to decide to stay home and watch reruns. Until I have lots of money to give, which I don't, this is my way of giving back.

TM: You're contracted with Xanadau until July. Any possible future plans you can talk about?
CJ: I'm always reading new musicals to do. I think we may do more work on Red Eye of Love this summer -- which I did last July at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center with my friend Ted Sperling. I love the music and the idea; but I know it's a very strange piece, and we would have to find a very specific way to present it. And I need to do my own New York cabaret show, but I just don't want to do an evening of musical theater songs. Michael McElroy once told me not to do a one-man show until I have something to say. Now, I have the experience and the right point of view; I just need to find the time to devote to it.

TM: And I hear there's a chance we might lose you to television?
CJ: I did this great pilot for Lifetime called Family Practice. It's a one-hour drama about a family of lawyers, with Anne Archer as my mom and Beau Bridges as my dad. It's kind of a take on King Lear. My character, Sebastian, is a womanizer, who gets by on his charm. We filmed in Chicago, which is where it would be shot. I really hope it happens. That way, I could end up commuting from New York; it's a lot easier than flying back and forth from L.A.

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