Cheyenne Jackson Debuts at the Carlyle With Eyes Wide Open

The ”Finian’s Rainbow” star returns to New York for a stint at the fabled Upper East Side supper club.

Cheyenne Jackson is ready to start the New Year with a clean perspective. Just married in September and fresh off a trip to Puerto Rico, he's got a brand-new cabaret act, aptly titled Eyes Wide Open. He'll be premiering it at Café Carlyle (January 13-24), his very first visit to the famed nightclub.

TheaterMania spoke with Jackson from his home in West Hollywood, where he lives with new husband, Jason Landau. He has made a major turn toward the West Coast in recent years, having appeared in seven films in 2014 alone, including the recently released Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks. His Café Carlyle debut represents a major homecoming for the self-styled "Broadway baby."

Cheyenne Jackson will make his Café Carlyle debut with Eyes Wide Open.
Cheyenne Jackson will make his Café Carlyle debut with Eyes Wide Open.
(© David Gordon)

You're coming back to New York to make your Café Carlyle debut. How do you feel?
Very excited. I've never performed there. It's a brand-new show. I haven't spent two weeks in New York in a long time, especially in the winter. I've been doing a lot of concerts across the country, a lot of them with symphony orchestras. Sometimes it's a smaller room like the Carlyle. There's something really special about it. It's just you up there. You can't hide behind a character. You have to generate the whole experience.

Why did you decide to call the show Eyes Wide Open?
The last three years of my life have been all about change and loss and love and revelation and recovery. I've been in recovery for two and a half years now. [Jackson joined Alcoholics Anonymous in 2012. He met his husband in rehab.] That time has really been about looking at life in a new way — looking at things you always thought were one way and they're actually another. I've sung a lot of songs over the last ten years and all the sudden you get sober and the words mean something brand-new. Eyes Wide Open is a way for me to have all that come to fruition.

What are you singing?
A range of stuff. I want to honor the history of the space and the people who have played there before. There will be some great American songbook stuff, jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, and Cole Porter. Also, I'm going to do a Sam Smith song and a Lady Gaga song. It's all in the context of what I'm trying to say that evening.

Newlyweds Jason Landau and Cheyenne Jackson enjoy a vacation in Bora Bora.
Newlyweds Jason Landau and Cheyenne Jackson enjoy a vacation in Bora Bora.

You made your nightclub debut in 2009 at Feinstein's. What have you learned about cabaret from Michael Feinstein?
I've learned how to handle a heckler. I remember the first time I was in a show with [Feinstein], this lady was drinking a lot and she wanted to get up onstage and sing. I thought, What's going to happen? It was such a small room and everyone obviously saw what was going on. Michael handled it so deftly. He acknowledged what she was saying, he didn't let her control the room, but he also didn't shame her and make the audience feel uncomfortable. That's finesse. I learned a lot from him.

Is that your worst heckler story?
Oh gosh, no. I've performed on gay cruises! I've seen some things that a woman ain't supposed to see.

You were cast as a last-minute replacement for Sean Hayes in the film adaptation of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks. Was this experience a trial by fire for you?
It was one of those things where you had to hit the ground running. I hadn't seen the play. I hadn't read it. I didn't know anything about it except that Gena Rowlands was going to be playing opposite me. Saying yes was a no-brainer! I'm not a dancer. Yes, I've been in Broadway shows, but I'm not someone you'd ever want to see do a double pirouette. It's a whole different thing being able to move and fake it than actually being able to speak with authority about the ins and outs of these dances.

So did you go through dance boot camp?
We didn't really have time for that, but we did have Kay Cole. She was in the original cast of A Chorus Line on Broadway and she was our choreographer. She was so gracious and wonderful. Before every scene we talked about what every dance was about.

When are you coming back to Broadway?
I've been offered a couple of things, but none of them have been the right fit. I'm a Broadway baby and I always will be, but in order for me to take time away from my family in California (my husband is here; my parents live here now; so do my brother and sister), it has to be something really incredible. I'd love to do something new, something that hasn't been written yet.

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Cheyenne Jackson

Closed: January 24, 2015