With his piercing eyes, striking features, beautiful complexion, and imposing 6'4” frame, the part-Native American Cheyenne Jackson is the gorgeous young actor of everyone's dreams — as those who saw him on Broadway in All Shook Up or on film in United 93 will attest. The fact that he happens to be gay only adds to his fascination quotient. Now he's starring as Sonny in Xanadu, the new Broadway musical based on what's generally acknowledged to be one of the worst movies of all time.
Though he had been involved in workshops of the show (with Jane Krakowski), he initially chose not to sign on for the Broadway run, but then fate intervened: James Carpinello, the new Sonny, was injured during rehearsals, and Cheyenne was brought in at the 11th hour to save the day. So here he is, playing opposite the adorable Kerry Butler in a camp-fest that also stars Tony Roberts, Jackie Hoffman, and Mary Testa. AfterElton.com caught up with Jackson at Angus McIndoe on West 44 th Street, just a few doors down from the Helen Hayes Theatre, where Xanadu opens on July 10.
AfterElton: Let's start with a possibly awkward question and get it out of the way: Can you say why you didn't continue with Xanadu after the workshops?
Cheyenne Jackson: Yeah, it was just that I couldn't commit to a year in the show at that point. I had finished a film called Hysteria, and I knew I had to go back to L.A. to do some more scenes for it. It's a psychological thriller and it's my first lead in a movie, which is very exciting. It's supposed to come out in the fall.
AE: At one point in Xanadu, Jackie Hoffman's character refers to the show as “children's theater for gay 40-year-olds.” Why do the movie and the show have such a strong appeal for gay men?
CJ: I think the poster says it all: “Xanadu on Broadway. Seriously.” It's the kitsch factor. The movie is so bad. I remember being at gay bars in Seattle and, at the end of the night, they would show the video of the roller skating number. I thought, “Are they serious?”
Our show is total camp, and people are absolutely digging it. Nathan Lane was there a couple of nights ago, and he said, “This is really good!” Everyone is so well cast, and [director] Chris Ashley knows what world to keep it in.
AE: I've never seen the movie. Is it truly terrible?
CJ: It's wretched. It's not even good in a “so bad it's good” way. There's an animated sequence half way through for no reason — just because. It was an incredibly expensive movie, but you look at it and you think, “Where did all the money go?”
AE: After seeing your show, James Wolcott of Vanity Fair wrote in his blog, “It was like taking Ecstasy in Broadway ticket form.” But he quoted another critic who said, “It might just prove too gay for Broadway.” Any thoughts on that?
CJ: Well, my parents came this weekend, and they loved it. They didn't get a lot of the gay references, but they responded to the love story. My mom said, “You and Kerry have great chemistry, I love the songs, and it was fun to see you skate!”
AE: It's interesting that the creators of the film are allowing the show to be done as a total spoof.
CJ: They must have a sense of humor about it. Olivia Newton-John is coming on opening night!
AE: Michael Beck played Sonny in the movie. Is he still around?
CJ: I don't know, but I would love him to come; I definitely tip my hat to him in my performance.
AE: How is James Carpinello taking all of this?
CJ: His heart's broken – and his leg's broken, in two places. It's such a bummer for him and his family. He worked really hard on the show, everyone loves him, and he really wants to come back as soon as he can.
AE: I hear that you wear this already legendary pair of short-shorts in the show. How are they working for you?
CJ: They're literally these little, '80s style, satin skating shorts. I have huge legs, and I never show them — not because of false modesty, I'm just not comfortable. So I had to work up to wearing the shorts. Last weekend was the first time I put them on, and I rocked 'em. I figure if I'm doing this, I'd better go for it all the way, so I invited all my friends to come the first night I wore the shorts. They gave me some catcalls, and I felt okay.