By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
July 14, 2014
Singer-songwriter Cheyenne Jackson has a rare talent and presence. Those lucky enough to experience it were treated to a vibrant performance Friday when he presented “Cheyenne Jackson’s Cocktail Hour: Music of the Mad Men Era” at theCabaret at the Columbia Club on Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. Jackson’s appearance was the first of a three-show, two day engagement. While in Indy, Jackson celebrated his 39th birthday on Saturday.
Those familiar with the hit TV shows “Glee” and “30 Rock” are familiar with Jackson, as are musical theater and concert fans who know him from his eight Broadway shows and performances with major orchestras in famous venues all over the country. A film star as well, Jackson has appeared in 18 films with four to be released this year. Also a recording artist, Jackson has been featured on 12 albums including his own 2013 CD, “I’m Blue, Skies.”
“Music of the Mad Men Era”, the title of Jackson’s 2011 sold-out Carnegie Hall show, was the basis for his Cabaret act which consisted of songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s, the music he grew up listening to in his baby boomer parents home in rural Washington. Also featured in his set were some of his original tunes. Jackson was accompanied by his music director, pianist and singer Ben Toth, who last performed at the Cabaret in 2010 with TV’s “The Office” star, Melora Hardin. Jackson jokiingly referred to Toth as his “heteosexual life partner.”
If there was ever an entertainer who could be described as having the complete package, it would be Jackson. Possessing matinee idol good looks, Jackson is also blessed with an unbelievable vocal range and versatility that is beyond compare. Add to that a likeability expressed through his charming personality, Jackson dazzled as he filled the Crystal Terrace room with his impeccable musicality, wit and charisma.
Act 1 of Jackson’s show began with him singing “Feeling Good” from the back of the room, prior to making his way through the audience to join Toth on stage. Tall and handsome, Jackson, wearing a dark blue suit, projected a debonair style reminiscent of the men of the Rat Pack as he proceeded to immediately connect with the sold out audience.
Jackson showcased his celebrated range when he sang the opening bars of Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velazquez’s “Bésame Mucho” in his lower register, sounding like a bass, followed by his interpretation of the jazz standard “Angel Eyes” during which he sang falsetto high notes. Emulating the crooners of days gone by, Jackson also demonstrated flawless phrasing, not to mention diction and enunciation throughout his show, in songs like “Old Devil Moon” and during a medley of “I Get Along Without You Very Well/Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” Providing a hint of his dancing abilities, Jackson delighted the audience with some of Elvis’ signature moves when he sang “A Little Less Conversation.”
Prior to intermission Jackson sang the Tom Jones version of “I Who Have Nothing”, introducing the song by commenting that he has a reputation for being a cross between Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey. Earlier Jackson also displayed his playful sense of humor pointing out to the audience that “Indianapolis has a lot of Jehovah’s Witnesses” (a reference to the sect’s national convention held in Indy over the weekend).
The beginning of Act 2 saw Jackson, this time wearing a white dinner jacket and black bow tie, entering once again from the back of the room as he sang “You Know I’m No Good.” During this section of the show, Jackson became very personal, revealing his vulnerabilities as he reflected on challenges he’s faced during the last two years during which he became divorced and began his recovery from alcoholism.
Jackson also talked about his family, joking about his mother who chided him for sharing that his family didn’t have running water for five years, and his Viet Nam vet dad who loved him unconditionally long before he came out as a gay man. Saying that he hoped the audience would perhaps see something of themselves in him, he sang one of his own songs, “Mr. Lonely Boy”, which spoke to his isolation prior to getting sober. Jackson also paid affectionate tribute to his beloved grandmother, a drinking alcoholic, when he sang yet another of his own songs, “Red Wine.”
An intimate and poignant highlight of the show occurred when Jackson, carrying a stool, went out into the crowd and then seated himself amongst audience members to sing one of Joni Mitchell’s most well known love songs “A Case of You.” It was a stunning interpretation that reflected both Jackson’s bottomless emotional depth and Toth’s artistry as a pianist.
Jackson closed his set with “Feeling Good.” Enhancing the tune with R & B riffs and runs, he once again exhibied an extraordinary vocal instrument, effortless versatility and ability to switch genres at the drop of a hat. As far as the song itself, it clearly spoke to the fact that Jackson, having escaped the burden of addiction, has the kind of joie de vivre that only those in recovery can truly understand and appreciate. Jackson’s gratitude for his sobriety was also obvious in his moving and heartfelt encore “What A Wonderful World” combined with “Auld Lang Syne.”
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