Robert Cuccioli Is Enjoying This Moment
The Tony Award nominee is starring in Dietrich and Chevalier, directing Jekyll & Hyde, and preparing his cabaret debut at Feinstein's.
THEATERMANIA: Why have you decided to direct this production of Jekyll & Hyde? You starred in the show on Broadway and you've directed it three times before. Aren't you tired of it?
ROBERT CUCCIOLI: I know, it's a lot of work. We have about eight days of rehearsals and a couple of days of tech; it's like summer stock that way. But just like when I am an actor and when I'm doing a role that is fulfilling and deep, I always find new things and make new discoveries with this show. No two productions are exactly alike.
TM: It must have been a strange audition process to watch people try out for the role you originated?
RC: It was probably nerve-wracking for a lot of them to sing "This Is the Moment" in front of me, but I have to say I found lots of brilliant people. And I try to make it clear that I don't expect anyone to do role the way I did it; as a director, I try to be completely collaborative. We finally cast this guy, Xander Chauncey, and I think he's great. You really need someone who can do justice to both of the roles -- a lot of actors can do Jekyll, but can't do Hyde and vice versa -- but I think he's found the right balance.
TM: How much will this production resemble the Broadway production?
RC: There are things I took away from Broadway that work very well and I intend to keep. But I also enjoyed being in the pre-Broadway tour, where the script was so different. So in many ways, this is a devised mutation of the two shows to create my vision of the ultimate production of Jekyll & Hyde. For one thing, we're restoring two songs that were cut for Broadway, "Bring on the Men" and "I Need to Know." Believe me, this is not a slimmed-down show at all. Especially since it is dinner theater, and we have a 30-minute intermission so people can eat their peach melba and have another drink.
RC: I was very hesitant, because I didn't think I was anything like the man. That's because my idea of him was really the same as what most anyone remembers about him -- and that's Gigi. But then I read the script, and I thought it was interesting. I liked that I wasn't being asked to do a tribute or mere impersonation. And then I looked at some of his earlier movies, and I realized looks-wise, we're not as far off as people think.
TM: What have you learned about Chevalier that truly surprised you?
RC: Actually, the most surprising thing is what the play is about -- his relationship with Marlene Dietrich. I would venture almost 100 percent of people who see the show never knew that story. And I didn't fully realize that he was essentially the poster child of France, and that he went from such a height to the bottom of the heap after he was accused of collaborating with Nazis, and then he was resurrected. It's a wonderful journey for an actor. I've never tried to be a live action figure before, and ultimately, its been a good challenge.
TM: What can you tell us about your show at Feinstein's?
RC: I'm calling it "A Standard Love," because I'm using old standards to do a story of one's love life -- how a relationship begins, grows, dies, even begin again. The hardest part is selecting songs from the amount of material I am going through, since I know it can't be a six-hour evening. These are all songs I've never done before, but I feel like I know them because I've heard them so many times that they're pretty much in me. What's important to me, also, is to create a show I can bring elsewhere -- something I can do in concerts or with symphonies. I admit that Feinstein's is a hell of a place to do a tryout; I would have loved to have done it a couple of places beforehand, but we just didn't make that happen.
RC: Fortunately, the shows at the Triad are using rotating casts, so I don't have to get involved until after I finish the Feinstein's show. There are just so many plates I can spin in the air at once. But I am a very organized. And I try to work on one thing at a time -- I spend one day or half of one day on one project, and then I go on to the next. Otherwise, it does get very confusing and overwhelming. But this year has been very productive for me. I'm not complaining.