It’s been more than three years since Cheyenne Jackson has been seen on the Broadway stage (as Woody in Finian’s Rainbow), but his fans on the Great White Way will finally get a chance to applaud him again this fall when he co-stars with television legend Henry Winkler in the new play, The Performers.
In between these stage bouts, though, the handsome, multi-talented actor has been working steadily, whether in television (30 Rock), film (The Green), or in concerts, including notable appearances at Carnegie Hall and Las Vegas’ recently opened Smith Center for the Performing Arts (with that appearance being preserved for PBS’ upcoming special, From Dust to Dreams to air on September 21).
For much of the past year, however, Jackson has been focusing on songwriting and putting together selections for his first solo EP, which will be released later this year. His first two singles, “Drive” and “Before You,” are already out on iTunes, along with their extraordinary videos.
“When I told my parents I was going to concentrate on music for a while, they let out a cumulative sigh, because it’s really where everything started for me, ” says Jackson (who dedicated a beautiful rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” to them at Carnegie Hall last fall). “I think I’ve written three dozen songs alone in the last year.”
In addition to his folks, Jackson has been encouraged in his new endeavor by his good friend, the Australian singer-songwriter Sia. “We met and developed a fast friendship. She knew I had these songs in me and she told me to let them out,” he notes. “So we holed up in a studio in Los Angeles to work on them. It seemed scary at first, but ended up being a cathartic experience. I’m so proud of these songs and excited to share them with the world.”
Jackson admits he hasn’t chosen all the songs yet for the EP. “When you put together an album, the million dollar question is what kind of sound is it going to have, and I’m still working on discovering that,” he says. “I do know that one of the executives at Sony who has heard my music told me that if George Michael and Adele had a baby and they listened to lots of Sting, these songs would be the result. I know my voice is very old-fashioned, but I’m also very influenced by modern-day pop music. In the end, what I’m writing is music I would love to hear on the radio.”
Not surprisingly, songwriting has become a consuming passion for Jackson. “I am constantly writing, day and night. Once the floodgate opens, it doesn’t abate. Sometimes I write at 2am on the piano,” he says. “But so far, I only have one ritual. I write the lyrics in a notebook, old-school, because I like to see the words on paper. And then I transfer them to the computer.”
While Jackson is the final arbiter of his songs, he is more than willing to take advice – especially from his husband, scientist Monte Lapka. “I try all my stuff out on Monte, because he has really great taste, and he doesn’t hold anything back,” Jackson says. “I can usually tell within the first few notes what he thinks. If it’s not working, he’ll just say, ‘move on.’ It’s great to have a husband with strong opinions.”
The actor has also been extremely involved with the creation of both videos. “With ‘Drive,’ I made a conscious effort to not be in the video, so people could really focus on the words, because it’s a very personal song. However, we did feel like the hero – who is animated — should resemble me in some way,” says Jackson.
“I knew ‘Before You’ was a little poppier, more of a traditional summer song, and I had a lot of ideas for the video,” he says. “I ended up working with this guy, Nick Everhart, and we came up with something that mixed a 1950s-1960s vibe with these old monster movies, and then decided to make it more of a short film than a music video. And then I convinced a couple of my friends, including Rachel Dratch, to be in it. I think it turned out great.”
For the past few weeks, Jackson has been balancing his music with a return to acting. He recently filmed the pilot for NBC’s Mockingbird Lane, a “reboot” of The Munsters, starring Jerry O’Connell, Portia de Rossi, and Eddie Izzard. “I play Scout Master Steve, and I was kind of surprised just how dark and subversive and funny the script was,” he says.
“And the sets were unlike any I’ve ever seen. The folks from NBC were on the set a lot and keeping a close eye on things. I don’t know if it will get picked up, but since NBC has already shown they’re willing to take risks on things like Smash, I sure hope so.”
Currently, he is filming Beyond the Candelabra, HBO’s upcoming biopic about the late pianist Liberace (played by Michael Douglas), directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh, playing a character named Billy Leatherwood.
“I didn’t know that much about Liberace before getting the part. I am not reading any unauthorized biographies, but I did my research. I asked my friend Michael Feinstein and other folks who knew him about that time. It’s a really exciting adventure.”