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Interview: Cheyenne Jackson

Will Coviello talks with the Broadway and TV star who’s performing at NOCCA Nov. 7



It's enough of a task to keep up with Cheyenne Jackson's career on TV (30 Rock, Glee), Broadway (Xanadu, All Shook Up, Finian's Rainbow, 8), movies (United 93) and singing (recent album I'm Blue, Skies). His personal life also has been busy in recent years. And it's all fair game for discussion with pianist/producer Seth Rudetsky at the interview/concert Saturday at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.

  "I've made no bones about the fact that the last couple years have been hard on me," Jackson says. "I'm divorced and remarried and moved across the country and got sober. A lot of changes — and that's informed the way I perform and what I perform, and it's important for me to include that in a show that's basically autobiographical."

  In the type of show (performance and Q&A) the two have performed together periodically in Provincetown, Massachussetts, Rudetsky is just as likely to ask serious questions as dig for dirt.

  "With this show, people get to meet the artist, and (Rudetsky) always tries to get me to talk shit about co-stars," Jackson says. "And watching me squirm out of it — or not — is part of the fun. ... Seth wants to know stuff about Glee and Jane (Krakowski). He'll always make me tell a horrible audition story."

  Jackson says changes in his personal life also change his cabaret performances.

  "I have songs that I have sung hundreds of times, and now that I am in a great place in my life and remarried and sober, the words are different," he says. "The way I sing it is different. There's a song called 'Breeze Off the River' in The Full Monty — the first Broadway show I saw. The song is about a father singing to his son, and there's the father aspect that I relate to with my dad. But some of the words and the song take on a deeper meaning now."

  Jackson always knew he could sing; growing up in Washington state, he was a star in high school choirs and regional choirs, but he didn't take a serious shot at a career onstage until after 9/11.

  "It changed everything," he says. "I didn't go to college. I worked at a magazine. [Acting] was something I always wanted to do but I was too scared and didn't have the confidence. 9/11 changed everything for all of us. It gave me the urgency."

  Jackson moved to New York and soon became a Broadway star, gaining understudy roles for the leads in Thoroughly Modern Millie (2002) and Aida (2003) before staring in Altar Boyz (2004), the Elvis Presley tribute All Shook Up (2005), Xanadu (2007) and Finian's Rainbow (2009-2010). He appeared as a voice coach on Glee in 2010-2011 and starred as Danny Baker for four years on 30 Rock. He's also embraced a variety of roles, from the lead in the United 93, about the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11, to a part in The Rocky Horror Show. In 2013, he released an album of original songs, I'm Blue, Skies.

  He's also been an advocate for same- sex marriage. That included a 2011 appearance in Dustin Lance Black's drama 8, about the court case that overturnedCalifornia's Proposition 8, which restricted the definition of marriage to heterosexual couples. Much has changed recently.

  "In the last four weeks, I have been to seven different cities touring — in Arizona, Las Vegas, Florida," he says. "Things have changed. I was in Phoenix three days ago when they passed it. There are 17 states where gay people can get married. It's remarkable. Some people are like 'It's not moving fast enough.' But if you step back and see how fast things are happening, it's a great time to be alive."

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