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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. logo
Robert Cuccioli
(© Tristan Fuge)
Tony Award nominee Robert Cuccioli is having many moments right now -- except a moment to rest. Three days a week, he's portraying legendary French entertainer Maurice Chevalier in Off-Broadway's Dietrich and Chevalier: The Musical at St. Luke's Theatre; at the same time, he's also preparing to direct the Westchester Broadway Theatre's production of Jekyll & Hyde, which begins previews on September 30, and putting together a new cabaret act, which he'll debut at Feinstein's at Loews Regency on October 11. TheaterMania recently spoke to Cuccioli about how -- and why -- he is juggling these projects.

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.

Jody Stevens and Robert Cuccioli in Dietrich and Chevalier
(© Carol Rosegg)
TM: Let's talk about Dietrich and Chevalier. What was your first reaction when you were approached to portray Maurice Chevalier?
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.

TM: You're also supposed to take part in Jacques Brel Returns, these concerts of Jacques Brel songs that are running periodically at the Triad for the rest of this year. How do you keep all these projects straight?
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.

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