Cheyenne Jackson met a roaring reception from a houseful of fans that overstuffed Feinstein’s for a rowdy two-night break-in. Jackson’s cabaret act is already booked into D.C.’s Kennedy Center and is sure to return at the Park Avenue venue for a full-length run later this year.
The Idaho-raised singer with the unconventional name has been a Broadway presence over the past eight years, combining a big voice with ingratiating charm and pin-up boy looks. His big break came as a pseudo Elvis in “All Shook Up” (which fizzled), followed by his stint as the Xanadude in roller-disco musical “Xanadu” (which drew him much attention but also eventually fizzled). He successfully displayed more traditional musical-comedy chops in last summer’s Encores! revival of “Damn Yankees,” demonstrating that he’s more than just a pretty face.
“Back to the Start” (the title comes from a Coldplay song) indeed went back to Jackson’s start, traveling through the singer’s relatively brief professional career. (He noted that he began in summer stock with the Carrousel Players in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where he “slept through all seven brothers” in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”) Jackson described how the tuner “The Full Monty” had a major influence on him, which he demonstrated with an especially fine rendition of that show’s “Breeze Off the River.” He also saluted the late Jerry Orbach, a supportive neighbor who offered encouragement and acting tips when the green youngster first moved to New York.
Jackson’s act, which includes a fair amount of patter, appears to have been quickly thrown together for what was meant to be a one-night engagement (with a second sold-out show added to catch the overflow); the program consists of highlights from Jackson’s list of musicals, none of them exactly top-tier. “All Shook Up,” “Aida,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Altar Boyz” and “Xanadu” have kept the budding star busy and often in the spotlight, but they don’t offer much in the way of song highlights. Given Jackson’s apparent affinity for the supper-club format, one hopes he will rethink his material in favor of songs that better showcase his talents.
A big plus was the presence of Seth Rudetsky, who has become something of an Ed McMahon of the piano bench. Patter was more rowdy than traditional Feinstein’s fare, but no matter; the audience eagerly ate it up. Jackson’s fans are not a prudish lot. While the language may shock the waiters and a few unsuspecting patrons, there’s little here that should cause offense (at least to a knowing, big-city audience).
At the performance attended, Jackson went so far as to toss out the F-word. When he apologized to a game Barbara Cook, sitting ringside, she garnered the evening’s biggest laugh by good-naturedly tossing it right back at him.