TALKING “THE AGE OF INNOCENCE” WITH STAR SIERRA BOGGESS

SIERRA BOGGESS IS SINGING A NEW TUNE.

After catapulting to Broadway fame in 2007 as the titular character in The Little Mermaid, Boggess has spent the past decade cementing herself as a contemporary musical theater icon. Having originated roles in shows like Love Never DiesIt Shoulda Been You, and School of Rock, as well as appearing in Les MisérablesThe Secret Garden and several incarnations of The Phantom of the Opera, the soprano has become one of the most sought after vocalists of her generation. Even her role in Master Class had her singing throughout most of that production, despite the fact that the show was not a musical.

But just like Ariel, Boggess is now navigating a new challenge – not using her singing voice. In The Age of Innocence, adapted from the classic novel by Edith Wharton, she is showing off her acting range by performing in a straight play. As the free-spirited Countess Ellen Olenska, Boggess is playing a woman who has fled her unhappy marriage in Europe and returned home to New York in 1870. What ensues is a scandalous love triangle that explores class, the morals of society, and the power of human attraction.

I spoke with Boggess about working on The Age of Innocence, her passion for animal activism, returning to Broadway, her solo music, and much more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: Growing up, who or what were some of your biggest influences that made you want to pursue a career in theater?

SIERRA BOGGESS: Barbra Streisand! I have to always start with Barbra Streisand. She was my first role model in the theater. After I saw the film version of Hello Dolly, she continued to be a huge inspiration in my life forever. Julie Andrews made me want to do this as well.

As I grew up, on the spiritual side, I was influenced by people like Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson and Brené Brown – people who have helped me think about life. That sort of thinking helps me as an artist even more, instead of just in my small artist circle, if that makes sense.

You tend to perform in musicals over straight plays. Why did The Age of Innocence seem like the perfect fit for your latest theatrical endeavor?

When the project came up, I read the play and was immediately in love with it. I had never read the novel or seen the film before, but I understood the character of Ellen right away. I was really, really excited to try and sink my teeth into it!

The other thing was that the director of this production is Doug Hughes. I had just seen Junk at Lincoln Center, which he directed, and I was like, “Who directed this? This is so incredible!” All of a sudden, I saw that he was directing The Age of Innocence and I wanted to work with him so badly.

Douglas McGrath is the playwright for this – he adapted it for the stage. He is also extraordinary. It was just a whole experience of “I want to work with these people!” and I really wanted to play this part. Luckily, they cast me, so I feel happy!

Countess Ellen Olenska is often regarded as a fierce and independent woman who was far ahead of her time. As an actor, how do you think this character differs from your previous stage roles? What have been some highlights of bringing her to life?

Well, one thing is that she doesn’t sing everything, so that’s a major difference! I try to find myself and tell my truth in whatever character I’m playing. I haven’t even been thinking about how she is different because I think a lot of the characters I’ve played are actually quite fierce in their own ways.

What I love about bringing Ellen to life is that she is trying her best. She’s not coming into this world trying to be difficult. She’s just doing the best that she can with the tools that she’s been given, and that’s not good enough for the people that believe in New York society in 1870. She’s just bringing herself to the table and always trying to be accepted by being truthful and by being herself.

I think one of the most heartbreaking lines that she says is, “Does no one here want to know the truth?” That’s what’s been fascinating to play because it’s incredibly vulnerable. She’s a woman in this time, she is alone, she is thinking things that other people don’t think and doing things that other people don’t do. It’s not to be like, “Look at me, I dare to be different!” It’s more that she’s just trying to be her most honest and authentic self. I love that about her.

How much are you relying on the novel to find your interpretation of Ellen? Will this production explore your character in ways beyond what is known of her from the source material?

It does! Edith Wharton wrote so beautifully, but Doug McGrath has really smartly added some things into the play so that you are never confused about what someone is thinking or feeling. He pays such homage to her work and I think the viewers are going to be thrilled. It feels almost seamless. For example, you see how the love between my character and Newland happens – how almost accidental it is just because they’re being their authentic selves.

I was relying on the novel before I started rehearsal, just to help myself with research. What was great about that is Edith Wharton describes 1870 very vividly, so you know exactly what’s going on and what is expected of a person in society. That was very helpful. It’s been really interesting to do research about that time, especially since I’ve lived in New York for 15 years. Researching what New York was like then has just been so cool.

Edith Wharton became the first woman to ever receive the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction when she won for The Age of Innocence in 1921. Prior to signing onto this show, were you a fan of hers? What do you think it is about her work that has made it so timeless and such a staple of American literature?

Isn’t that so cool? I think it’s the honesty of how she speaks about that time that she was living in. In a way, it makes you feel sorry for her, because she was just so aware– if that makes sense.

I think she maybe feels herself in Ellen a little bit – where she can see that something doesn’t feel right and is wondering why no one is talking about what’s actually going on. There’s a great line that she wrote that’s also in our play, and it’s something like, “Knowing things makes people think that you don’t have to talk about what’s going on.” It’s basically saying that if we know something is happening, we don’t have to talk about it. But that actually creates loneliness!

To me, that’s what makes her so interesting. She’s commenting on her own society at the time when she’s living in it. Plus, the way she describes things and her use of language is just stunning. I mean, it’s got to be that.

Although it’s set during the Gilded Age, The Age of Innocence is still very relevant to contemporary audiences. Is there a primary takeaway that you hope audiences leave with after seeing this show?

Doug Hughes talked to us a bit about this when we started. He’s calling this sort of a memory play. It’s Newland’s memory of what this time was. I think that’s why it’s relevant, because people still have these types of pulls today. It’s called The Age of Innocence, but it’s almost like it’s about integrity. It forces us to ask if we are choosing things based on being right or on being kind? Do we do things based on our integrity, based on what our gut is telling us to do, or are we just freely doing what we want because it feels good for us? The play really makes us ask and wrestle with those questions. I hope people walk away thinking about that.

What I keep coming back to is the underlying river of integrity, and how deep and passionate love makes us feel invincible – but also crazy and psycho. If we can ground it in integrity, then we can sort of get our answers of what we’re supposed to do. I feel like I’ll become a better person just having done this play.

Do you have plans to remain involved with this play beyond its world premiere in Hartford? Are there plans for future regional productions and/or to bring it to Broadway?

Yes, there are! I don’t know what I’m allowed to say, but yes, there is definitely one other production happening that we know of.

On your website, you describe yourself as “an avid yogi, vegetarian, and animal rights activist.” What are some ways that you encourage people to help with animal rights activism and what is it about this cause that makes it so important to you?

I think that we’re their voices. There is nothing better on this planet than animals. They are all beings of love. I’ve even brought my cats with me to Hartford! Actually, a lot of the actors and people involved with the play also brought their cats and dogs. I think that’s so important! As actors, a lot of us have animals. They are always there to remind you that the present moment is all there is.

There’s nothing that breaks my heart more than people who abuse animals. All this stuff goes on, like trophy hunting. I love the Humane Society and think that they’re really great. They tend to always talk about the good things that they’re doing, as opposed to always inundating us with “look how bad people are abusing” or whatever. That positivity is very important to me.

Bernadette Peters on Broadway has come up with Broadway Barks. I love that somuch – being able to raise money, help animals, and promote an “adopt don’t shop” message, and stuff like that.

I hope to eventually have a platform big enough that I can make real changes for these amazing creatures that we have. I really believe that as humans, we’re supposed to take care of and protect them.

You created your “I Am Enough!” initiative as a way to engage with and help your fans/followers embrace their full potentials. Can you please elaborate a bit about what this initiative consists of and what your goals for it are?

When I was doing The Little Mermaid, I was getting a lot of mail from people. This was the start of fan mail for me, 10 years ago. It was funny because it wasn’t just, “Hey, I love you, can I get an autograph?” It was, “Here’s my life story.” People talked to me about all sorts of stuff – some were suicidal, some were dealing with self-harm, eating disorders, all kinds of stuff.

I realized people were writing to me because I was representing Ariel, a character who believes they were born in the wrong body or the wrong time. That realization was very deep for me. I think people often didn’t even realize that’s what they were connecting with. The same can be said about my Phantom of the Opera character, Christine Daaé. People were relating to this girl who is representing someone who loves the unlovable.

What I realized is I can’t write everyone back and fix everything that they were talking about. But what I cando is write simply, “You are enough! It’s unbelievable how enough you are.” To me, the idea that we are put on this planet is enough. It’s what we do with that trusting of our enough-ness that makes us go on many different journeys. I encourage everyone to start from the place of “I am enough! And now I can answer my questions of what I should do or who I am.”

As I was writing back, “Hey, whatever your name is, you are enough. Love, Sierra,” that in itself was enough. Now, it’s turned into this huge movement! I feel like it’s my responsibility to keep reminding people, as much as they need to, that we can start from that place. I think that will help us with a lot of different self-harm or disorders or things like that. It doesn’t necessarily fix anything, and those thoughts will often come because at the end of the day, we are human and self-doubt is there. But if I can help remind people of that, then that, to me, is good.

What’s amazing is when I’ve toured, even in places like Australia and Japan, I will start to say “You are enough!” and people in the audience will start saying it with me. I think it’s just incredible to see that message have that kind of reach all over the world. I love being associated with that as much as I love being associated with characters that I’ve played.

Last spring, I interviewed your friend and frequent collaborator, Ramin Karimloo. He mentioned that part of why he loves working with you is that the two of you have a shorthand and a real trust with one another. He said that in particular, working on The Secret Garden at Lincoln Center with you was a real highlight. From your perspective, what do you think it is that makes you such a captivating pair on stage? And what’s been your favorite collaboration with him so far?

It’s exactly what he said. We do have a shorthand and we do trust each other. We know how each other works, we know the things we each struggle with and the things we’re really good at. But at the core of it is trust. The first time that we met, there was an instant onstage chemistry within just minutes of meeting each other. That is very unique, I think. There was also something where we just got each other right away. That meeting was to do Love Never Dies in London, so I will always love and be sentimental about that, since it was our first collaboration.

Another favorite was the 25th anniversary of Phantom at Royal Albert Hall. I feel like we almost left our artistic souls on that stage with each other for a while. I felt like I was hungover after that experience. I wassofulfilled doing that with him. We just really trusted each other for that show. I’m glad that it was filmed because if ever in my life, I want to reflect on that time, then I will be able to. That was a very special night for us. It’s so cool that it was preserved.

Speaking of The Secret Gardenit’s been confirmed that Warren Carlyle will be directing and choreographing the first Broadway revival of the show later this year. Do you plan to be a part of that production in any way? If not, what type of show and/or role would you like to tackle next on the Great White Way? 

Well, I would love for The Age of Innocence to come to Broadway. I think that this is a play that people are ready for, especially in this time that we’re in. I really, really hope that we do get a chance to do this on Broadway. It would be nice to do another play on Broadway. The last time I did a play was Master Class, but that almost doesn’t feel like a play because I sang so much in it!

With The Secret Garden, I love that show. I make no secret about that. It’s one of my favorite scores. The revival will be a different production and different team than the one Ramin and I did at Lincoln Center, so I don’t know. I would be thrilled to be involved in that production, but regardless, I’m going to be thrilled because that score will get to be revived!

This year, there are multitudes of celebrations of Andrew Lloyd Webber – including (but not limited to) the release of his memoir and new retrospective album to the debut of a new musical revue to television specials and more. Having appeared in multiple iterations of The Phantom of the Opera and originating roles in both Love Never Dies and School of Rock, you’re often referred to as a muse of the iconic composer. What is it about your work together that keeps drawing you back to one another? And how are you planning to celebrate his landmark 70th birthday?

Well, I’m doing this play at the time of his actual birthday, but I will definitely be celebrating!

About us working together, I just love the way that he writes. I mean we alldo! His music is accessible to all of us. There’s also something about the Phantom score that I just never feel done with. He’s very special and I feel really lucky to have the relationship I have with him.

I’m thrilled that this year is celebrating so many aspects of his life. As long as I’m available to celebrate him, then I will be there. If I’m unavailable, I’ll still be celebrating. I’ll always just celebrate him!

And what a cool year for him! There are also the Alan Jay Lerner and Leonard Bernstein centennials, so there are a lot of big things happening this year.

In 2013, you released your debut solo album, Awakening: Live at 54 Below. Do you have any plans for a follow-up solo record?

I do, yes! I’m always talking with a friend of mine, who wants to produce it. It’s just figuring out the timing, but I definitely want to make another album. We’re always talking about it, and just trying to find the time.

As a child, you played the flute and were a competitive figure skater. If you weren’t a theater performer today, would you still be pursuing one of these passions or would you be doing something else?

I really did want to go to the Olympics. For a long time, I couldn’t even watch the ice skating portion of the Olympics because it was just too painful. It hurt so badly. But skating was such an expensive sport that we just couldn’t afford it anymore. I remember that being a huge heartbreak for me when I was younger, but yes, figure skating is what I would have definitely still pursued.

Springtime often sees the debuts of numerous new shows on Broadway and this year is no exception. Purely from the standpoint of a fan, what new show(s) are you most looking forward to seeing over the next few months?

Oh, well I’ve got to go see Carousel! That’s not a new show, but I have to see the new revival. My friend Lindsay Mendez is playing Carrie Pipperidge. I’m also really excited about Frozen!

Another show that opened this season that I really love is The Band’s Visit. It’s so powerful and I just loved it. It’s incredible! The woman who’s the lead in it, Katrina Lenk, is so amazing. Everybody in that show is. It’s so different than anything that I’ve seen, so I loved that. I recommend that show for all people.

What are some dream roles on your musical theater bucket list that you’d love to play?

It’s funny because with whatever role that comes up, I’m like, “Oh, that’s my dream! I didn’t know this was my dream!”

I think I want to do some revivals now, because that’s the stuff that I love and that made me want to do theater. I would really love to do Sweet Charity. I would actually also love to do Camelot, because I love that score so much. That score is just really incredible and I think that maybe people forget that. It’s due for a revival. But I’m up for whatever!

Thanks so much, Sierra! Is there anything else that you would like to talk about that we didn’t discuss?

I have to say that The Age of Innocence is really beautifully done. I can’t say enough about our director, Doug Hughes. I can’t think of anyone better to direct this piece. He is an absolute dream come true. He’s everything that I had heard about him and had dreamed about working with. What he’s done with this piece is really incredible.

And I also want to say how incredible the cast that I’m working with is. We just finished our first week of rehearsals, and are beginning to put it on stage here in Connecticut. We did a week of rehearsals last week in New York, and this is now the end of our second week. It’s one of those casts where we are all so lucky that we’re getting to work with each other. I’m really thrilled about that. They’re all such incredible actors, and specifically incredible play actors. They’re such a great team of people. I feel really honored to be among them.


 

CLICK HERE to purchase tickets for The Age of Innocence, playing at Hartford Stage in Connecticut from April 5 through May 6.


Originally published on PopBytes

TALKING ‘ANASTASIA’ AND MORE WITH RAMIN KARIMLOO!

RAMIN KARIMLOO IS WITHOUT A DOUBT THE BEST MALE SINGER ON BROADWAY.

The 38-year-old actor has an incomparable talent that has made anything he does the “must-see” musical event of whatever season it falls in. After attending a production of The Phantom of the Opera when he was 12, Karimloo discovered his passion for musical theater. In 2007, his journey came full circle when he played The Phantom in the iconic show’s West End production. He then went on to be hand-picked by Andrew Lloyd Webber to originate the role of The Phantom in Love Never Dies, the composer’s sequel to his original classic.

Amongst his illustrious stage credits, Karimloo is best known for his Tony-nominated starring turn in the 2014 revival of Les Miserables. His unprecedented, gritty, and raw take on his character became instantly unforgettable as he redefined and reinvented who Jean Valjean was.

Now, fresh off his West End run in the U.K. premiere of Murder Ballad, Karimloo has returned to Broadway. Starring as Gleb in Anastasia, the actor is going from playing a hero to a villain. I spoke with him about this latest venture, his solo music, being an Iranian-born actor in the age of Trump, and much more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: You have two children, Hadley and Jaiden. Are they fans of the movie Anastasia? If so, how much “cool cred” did doing this show give you at home?

RAMIN KARIMLOO: To be honest, we didn’t grow up with the film and it’s not something we’ve seen. They’ve seen the show and loved it though. I’m lucky to have already accumulated “cool cred” with them thus far.

Gleb is not a character featured in the movie. Did you find this to be freeing or more of a challenge when bringing him to life for this adaptation?

I guess since I didn’t watch the film it was even more freeing as you say. Thing is, it’s Terrance McNally’s book that I wanted to play in. So I sort of just used my imagination based off what Terrance wrote and then used some historical references that I felt helped me. What I really wanted to do is just find the guy within the uniform and play around with the conflict he has to deal with – father, job and heart.

How do Gleb’s feelings for Anya conflict with his duties as a general for the Bolsheviks?

Whether its feelings specifically for Anya or what Anya represents for him, it serves as a major conflict. Gleb believes in his cause and “a new Russia” but well … he’s progressive … a bit. He’s trying to figure things out. And something he says in the song “Neva Flows” says a lot of how they feel of how things actually went down with the Romanovs: “My Mother said he died of shame.” It wasn’t supposed to have gone down like it did.

One of the central themes of this show is the importance of family. Gleb’s father was one of the Bolsheviks who assassinated the Romanovs. How did who Gleb’s father was shape who he is?

Well his father was in the military of, by nature, a stoic and strong culture. With Gleb following in his father’s military footsteps, he was of course very much shaped by his father and environment.

You also played Gleb in the 2015 workshop of this show. How have both the show and your character evolved from then until now?

When I signed onto the Broadway production, “Still” was written, which I was very pleased about. What we found in the workshop were the stakes that were created by his attraction to Anya. That put many things into question for Gleb and what he stood for – or what he thought he stood for. Like I said, he believes in his cause. But he also believe it’s better for Russia, for the people and for their futures.

In the show’s Playbill is a postcard that reads, “Tell us about your dreams & what you’d like to achieve on your journey below.” Underneath that text is a header that says, “On my journey I will …” followed by a blank space for each audience member to fill in their answer(s). If you were filling out this postcard, what would yours say?

Either “win” or “learn.”

You led the world premiere of Prince of Broadway when it debuted in Japan. Now that it’s coming to Broadway this fall, do you have any future plans to join the cast of that show when your run in Anastasia is over?

After Anastasia, I’m planning to take some much needed time in England with my family. But I had a blast doing Prince of Broadway in Japan. What a great experience! I’m happy to hang onto that memory.

You’ve coined the term “broadgrass” to identify the genre of your solo music. Can you please elaborate a bit about what this means? 

Really that term was a throwaway remark I made one day and it stuck.  We are at a point now that we just play and perform what we want to perform.  It’s amazing the following our concerts have created. It’s a group of friends every time coming along to join in. It was really a development of a live sound that organically found its feet from our love of the theater songs from shows I’m known for to songs I’ve written and of course to covers I love. I love the “grassroots” sound that comes from country, folk and bluegrass. So it was a way to coin a live sound the still incorporated our passion for theater songs. Broadway to bluegrass is broadgrass. We just love to play and sing songs that tell great stories. There’s a wide scope for songs like that.

What can your fans expect from your upcoming solo concerts at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York on July 23 and 24

I guess I would direct folks to my previous answer. More of that. We did a tour earlier this year and whenever that happens, more songs get added to our set list. So there are songs we’ve never done at BB King’s and this gives us a chance to do them.  More theater songs and of course some of the fan favorites!

You’ve collaborated several times with Sierra Boggess on projects ranging from The Phantom of The Opera to Love Never Dies to The Secret Garden. Why do you think you two work so well together and what’s a favorite memory you have from any of these productions together?

I always love working with friends. She’s been a family friend for a long time now. So when you have friends like that, there’s a shorthand that goes with that.  A trust.  She’s a lot of fun to work with. I really loved doing The Secret Garden with Sierra. That was a big discovery for me and to work on that show and book at the Lincoln Center was a real treat.

As an Iranian-Canadian actor, what are thoughts on the current administration’s attempted ban against Iranian citizens? And how do you think Americans can show the rest of the world that the prejudices of this administration do not reflect the views of this country as a whole?

You know, I have spent 15 minutes writing this answer then deleting. Then writing and deleting again.  I’ll just say its fear-mongering bullshit, and I think it’s important to accept everyone, no matter their beliefs or where they come from.

Ramin KarimlooAs a seasoned stage actor, do you have a preference when it comes to working on a revival of a classic or working on a new musical? If so, why?

I’m not fussed. Both can be exciting. A great show is a great show. It can be great to revisit a role or revive a hit from before. And it’s so exciting to create something from scratch. But you can approach anything from a blank sheet and have fun with your imagination and create.

For years now, you’ve alternated between performing on the West End and on Broadway. What do you find to be the biggest differences between working in these two iconic theater communities?

They both have their charms. England is home, obviously, but I do like being able to swap back and forth. I’m very grateful that has been happening. There’s a great sense of community for theater over here. There’s so much history in London and a great buzz in the West End as well. Support is great on both sides of the Atlantic.

What’s your musical theater dream role? 

I’m not sure! Maybe it hasn’t been written for me yet. But that being said, everything I have done so far has turned out to be a fantastic opportunity and ride. So I don’t really think about what’s a dream role. I wouldn’t want to just pin one. I just want to keep playing.



CLICK HERE to purchase tickets to Anastasia, now playing at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York.

Originally published on PopBytes

INTERVIEW: CHATTING WITH “RENAISSANCE” MAN CHEYENNE JACKSON

CHEYENNE JACKSON HAS FOUND HIS CALLING.

Cheyenne-Jackson-CD-Cover-RenaissanceThe 40-year-old Broadway veteran, best known for his originating roles in shows like Xanadu and All Shook Up, is returning to his musical roots. On his new album, Renaissance, Jackson masterfully channels the classic crooners, jazz artists, and rock-and-roll stars of the 1950s and 60s. Paying homage to the music he was raised on, he has put his own twist on the greatest hits of the era. With this record, Jackson has passionately revived the American songbook with his stunning range and signature, soulful baritone voice.

Taking a break from filming the upcoming sixth season of American Horror Story, Jackson chatted with me about his new album, returning to Broadway, his thoughts on this year’s Tony Awards, being gay in the entertainment industry, and more.

What does the album’s title, Renaissance, signify to you?

Funny, nobody’s asked me that! I’ve definitely gone through a renaissance, or a rebirth if you will, over the last 4 years. These songs in particular are ones that I’ve toured for a while now. Everything has kind of culminated in this group of songs that have meant so much to me. Plus, my music teachers always called me a “Renaissance man,” and I just liked the idea of doing something old but also something new.

The album is adapted and expanded from your tour, “Music of the Mad Men Era.” Why does music from this time period resonate with you and what made you decide to record your own album interpreting these classics?

Strangely, this is the music that I grew up listening to. I was a 12-year-old in rural Northern Idaho who listened to Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald. For some reason, that’s the type of music that I was drawn to. I loved the feel of it. I loved the sound of it and it just seemed very natural to me.

As I’ve gotten older and as I’ve sung a lot of different things in a lot of different styles and genres, if I really get quiet and listen to what I like to do the best and what moves me the most, it’s this style of music. It’s the American songbook and it’s jazz in particular.

So for the last few years, touring this kind of music in clubs and in big performing arts centers just made sense. It made sense to want to record these songs. Most of them are ones I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of times. But because they’re such great, classic songs, as you get older and have more experience, the songs themselves morph and change and take on deeper meanings. That’s kind of how it all happened.

This era had so many incredible songs to choose from. How did you curate which ones were included on the record?

It was a really natural process. Like I said, having done a lot of these songs for years and years, I definitely don’t sing them the same as I did 4 years ago. I love that idea that it’s ever changing and morphing and that it can mean one thing one day and something else the next. When it came time to choose, I definitely wanted to pick songs that meant the most to me, and that would work within this linear story I’m trying to tell on the album.

All but one of the songs are ones that I’ve performed in concert before. “A Song For You” is the only one that’s a brand new song for me, but everything else is something I’ve done many, many times. I just tried to pick the best versions because some of these songs on the album are just maybe piano and drums, but in concert I do them with a full orchestra. And vice versa. So I really wanted to focus it.

In addition to all of the covers, the album also includes an original song that you wrote, “Red Wine Is Good For My Heart.” What’s the story behind that song? What inspired you to write it?

Thank you for asking because that is a very personal song to me. My grandma died a few years back due to complications from alcoholism. And, you know, I am an alcoholic and I’ve been sober for 3 years. It’s a huge part of my story. I wrote this song at my friend Michael Feinstein’s house a few years back and I was kind of struggling with the bridge. He came downstairs and I was like, “Sit down and write this song with me!” So we finished it up.

My grandma’s favorite thing to say was, “Well red wine is good for my heart!” She clung to that, but it was ultimately the thing that killed her. I also just wanted to honor her life and her relationship with her man of 30 years. It’s a deeply personal issue for me as well, so I wanted to mark that in some way.

Do you do you plan on going back on the road with another tour to celebrate the album?

Yes! Right now, I’m shooting season 6 of American Horror Story – which I don’t think they’ve announced yet so you may be getting an exclusive there. But yeah, once we’re done shooting this season, then I’m going to have some time to tour a bit. But right now we’re in the thick of it.

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Speaking of American Horror Story, what can you tease about this new season and/or about your character?

Literally zero! Wild horses couldn’t drag it out of me. We are absolutely sworn to secrecy.

What’s your favorite part about working with Lady Gaga? I know she’s coming back for the new season as well.

I would say my favorite thing is her passion. She’s one of those people that is so passionate about whatever it happens to be at that moment – whether she’s talking about jazz or if she’s talking about a film she loves. While we were shooting last season, she was obsessed with the documentary series, The Jinx. She was obsessed with Robert Durst and that whole story.

It’s just fun to be around somebody who is so committed to whatever they’re doing. So many people have so many things going on and so they become a little bit scattered. The thing about her is that she’s always all in. That’s cool to be around. It’s inspiring.

Vocally, how does singing the style of music on Renaissance differ from when you’re singing musical theater or the type of pop found on your previous solo album? And moving forward, do you plan to continue releasing records that are more along these lines?

I do and here’s why. I’ve really been searching my heart and my soul over the last several years because I just wanted to find my sound. What is it and what do I want to do? So if I really clear away everything else and just get quiet and listen to what it is that moves me, all I have to do is look back to what it was as a kid – and that’s this style of music. It’s the American songbook. It’s great melodies. It’s jazz.

I think for a long time, I resisted it, because maybe I thought it was a little bit nerdy. I just wanted to be a cool, edgy singer/songwriter. And honestly, even though I can write pop music and I’m pretty good at it, it’s not the thing that I’m supposed to be doing. What I know now is that this is the music that I’m meant to be singing. It’s the most natural fit. My voice has always been really old-fashioned. As a 15-year-old kid, my high school choir teacher was like, “What is happening with you with sound?” I had an old-fashioned, jazzy type sound. The phrasing, the intonation and the vibrato – all of it just naturally lent itself towards that. And I fought it for years! I wanted to be George Michael! I wanted to really try. Even though I can sing that stuff and I love it, if I really get honest, this is the stuff that I love more than anything else. And I guess I’m kind of coming out.

Honestly, I was talking to my husband about this last year when I was planning this album, and I was like, “I guess I have to just accept and come out with the fact that this is what I do.” It was kind of a breakthrough for me. It’s freeing actually.

You’re really establishing your artistic identity.

Yeah, exactly! And it only took me to 40. Whatever.

Recently, you reunited with your former co-star Kerry Butler to sing “Suddenly” from Xanadu (in full-costume!) as part of a charity benefit performance. If you could revisit and revive any character in your career, whom would you want to play again?

Good question! Well being able to do a little bit from Xanadu again was definitely towards the top of the list. That show was so important to me and to my career. As for who I’d like to revive? Danny from 30 Rock was a very fun character. He was so in-your-face clueless about life. I think it would be a fun thing to see what he’s doing now. And to see if he’s mastered saying the word, “about.”

The last time that you and I chatted, you mentioned that you wanted to make your New York stage return with an original musical as opposed to a revival. Do you still feel that way? And do you have any idea when your fans might be able to expect to see you on Broadway again?

I do still feel that way, for sure! More than ever, actually. Given the last two years on Broadway, and especially this last year, there’s just been so much incredible new material. I’ve got to say, when I saw Hamilton, I had heard so much about it and it was so hyped up. With something like that, you think, “There’s no fucking way this is going to live up to what people are saying.” And happily, it just exploded my expectations and exploded my brain. It shows what the power of musical theater can actually do. So yeah, more than ever I definitely want it to be something new. I have had a couple of offers to come back in the last couple of years for certain revivals, and it just hasn’t been the right fit. It has to be something that I just immediately say, “Yes!”

So yeah, I really don’t know. I don’t have anything on the immediate horizon. There are talks about some things that are a couple of years out. But I definitely try to come back every 6 months or so and do something. For example, doing The Secret Garden in concert at Lincoln Center recently was really fun.

That was incredible, by the way. I had such a great time at the show.

Thank you! I did too. For Ramin (Karimloo) and I, it was such a highlight. And Sierra (Boggess)! You know, I love Broadway and I totally do want to come back. It just has to be the right thing.

You just wrapped filming the movie adaptation of Hello Again alongside the likes of Audra McDonald and Martha Plimpton. What was that process like and how do you think this film will stand out from other contemporary movie musicals?

Another good question! Honestly, I don’t know how it’s going to stack up. This is the first movie musical that I’ve done and it was challenging in that we sang live.

Oh wow!

Yeah! We had little inner-ear things and we were singing to just a piano track. So we’re doing the scenes and we’re actually literally doing the song in the moment live. Which was cool from an acting perspective, but it was definitely challenging. I don’t know how it’s going to come across. I think it’s going to be cool.

It’s very experimental in terms of the scope and it’s very sexy. I mean, that’s what the whole movie is about – each person’s sexual connection and then that person with the next person with the next person with the next person. I had a really good time. Audra and I both did things on camera that we’ve never done before! You’ll see when it comes out. But we definitely just had to kind of go, “Okay, are we doing this? All right lets do it! 1, 2, 3, Go for it!” But yeah, it was a really fun cast. Martha Plimpton is fabulous and really good people. I’m anxious to see it and to see how it all comes across.

As an out gay man in the industry, what were your thoughts on the recent controversial interview that The Real O’Neals star Noah Galvin gave to Vulture about the glass closet in Hollywood?

Listen, I mean, everybody has their own experiences. He’s clearly sorry about what he said and redacted it and has gotten in trouble. I think he probably just got a little excited and I don’t believe in judging.

First of all, I don’t believe in outing anybody. And when people do decide to come out, it’s nobody’s business how they do it. I’ve been out for a long time now and I’ve watched these guys come out younger and younger and it’s very cool. I actually just saw Colton Haynes a couple of days ago and we chatted about this. It’s a new world and the industry is changing, and I think it’s because of these new, younger actors. So we need to lift each other up. We need to support each other in however we choose to come out because we’re all together. We’re all on the same team. Tearing each other down and speaking ill of each other’s experiences is not going to help anybody. It’s not going to help the process. So I’m glad that Noah apologized and kind of took back what he said, because I thought it was really ill conceived.

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How do you plan on celebrating Pride this year?

Well, we just had Pride in LA. So we kind of bopped around a bit and then we went to my niece’s birthday party. Then, I’m singing for Pride in P-town on the 4th of July. I’m doing a big concert at Town Hall.

That’ll be fun!

Yeah! That’s always a very Pride-filled weekend.

What was your personal highlight from the Tony Awards this year? Were there any specific performances that really resonated with you?

Oh god, yes! Cynthia Erivo from The Color Purple. It was insane! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see The Color Purple on stage. I’ve seen her perform “I’m Here” a couple of different times on talk shows and such, but holy crap! Insanity. Just insanity.

I thought the Tony’s this year were the best they’ve been in a decade. They were so exciting and there were so many good live performances. I also really loved Carmen Cusack’s number from Bright Star. I thought that was really strong. And I loved Jessie Mueller in Waitress. That was really, really powerful. So were so many of my friends, like the She Loves Me cast. And obviously Hamilton.

But the thing that pops into my mind immediately is Cynthia Erivo. That’s just how you do it. In fact, I watched that performance about 10 times. As soon as it was done, I just kept rewinding it and rewinding it and rewinding it.

I get to a point sometimes where I think I’ve got it figured out. I’m like, “Okay, I know how to interpret a song. I know how to really sing it from my gut. I know how to make these words my own.” And then you watch something like that and you realize, “Holy shit! I have so far to go. There’s so much more I could do!” That’s what I love about watching my peers. You can’t help but watch something like that and think, “Man! How does that happen?”

Thank you so much, Cheyenne! Is there anything else that you want to talk about that we didn’t discuss?

I think that’s good. This was really great! Thank you so much.

Originally published on PopBytes

TEN MUST-SEE BROADWAY SHOWS THIS FALL!

You Can’t Take It With You

STARRING: James Earl Jones, Rose Byrne, Annaleigh Ashford, Kristine Nielsen, Fran Kranz, Elizabeth Ashley, Johanna Day, Byron Jennings, and Reg Rogers
WHEN: Now through January 4, 2015
WHERE: Longacre Theatre / youcanttakeitwithyoubroadway.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: In her dazzling Broadway debut, Rose Byrne (Damages) continues to show off the comedic chops she displayed in Bridesmaids and Neighbors. With a cast that includes screen and stage legend James Earl Jones (Star WarsThe Great White HopeFences), the always hilarious Kristine Nielsen (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike), and a scene-stealing Annaleigh Ashford (Kinky Boots), You Can’t Take It With You is a raucous comedy about an eccentric family that clashes with the conservative and rigid parents of the daughter’s fiancée when they come to dinner on the wrong night. This revival includes everything from snakes to fireworks to Russian royalty to prison sentences to ballet dancers – what more could you ask for?
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You Can’t Take It With You

This Is Our Youth

STARRING: Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, Tavi Gevinson
WHEN: Now through January 4, 2015
WHERE: Cort Theatre / thisisouryouthbroadway.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Set in New York in 1982, this Kenneth Lonergan-written play chronicles 48 hours in the lives of three materialistic teenagers. Michael Cera (Arrested DevelopmentSuperbad) makes his Great White Way debut as Warren, a dejected 19-year-old who has just stolen $15,000 from his father, while Kieran Culkin (Igby Goes Down) plays his drug-dealing friend whose apartment acts as the show’s setting. Rookie Magazine founder and Editor-in-chief Tavi Gevinson rounds out the cast as Jessica, a fashion student that Warren tries to impress with his newfound cash. Tackling issues of adolescence against the backdrop of the Raegan era, This Is Our Youth has all the makings of a contemporary classic.
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This Is Our Youth

Hedwig & The Angry Inch

STARRING: Andrew Rannells (through October 12), Michael C. Hall (starting October 16), Lena Hall
WHEN: Now
WHERE: Belasco Theatre / hedwigbroadway.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Winner of this year’s Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, the premiere Broadway production of this rock musical tells the story of a fictional rock and roll band fronted by a transgender woman from East Berlin. Hedwig tells her story in an extended monologue, recalling a romance that never came to fruition after a botched sex change operation tore the couple apart. A thought-provoking musical with a genius score, Hedwig stars Andrew Rannells (GirlsThe Book of Mormon) through October 12, at which point Michael C. Hall (Six Feet UnderDexter) will don the illustrious wig of the title role.
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Hedwig & The Angry Inch

Cabaret

STARRING: Alan Cumming, Michelle Williams (through November 9), Emma Stone (from November 11-February 1, 2015), Danny Burstein, Linda Emond
WHEN: Now through March 29, 2015
WHERE: Studio 54 / cabaretmusical.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: This fall, Alan Cumming will be on your TV screen as the neurotic and brilliantly manipulative Eli Gold on CBS’ The Good Wife and at your local bookstore with the release of his gripping new memoir, Not My Father’s Son. But you’re not truly a fan of Cumming’s until you’ve seen his career-best performance as the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret. Reprising his Tony Award-winning role from the 1998 production, Cumming is joined in the Kit Kat Klub by Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine; Brokeback Mountain) as the self-destructive Sally Bowles. And when Williams trades in her pink boa, it’ll be picked up by Emma Stone (The HelpEasy A) – who was originally rumored to play Bowles when this revival was first announced. With an unforgettable score by Kander and Ebb, Cabaret shines a spotlight on 1930’s Berlin when sex was rampant and the darkest period in Germany’s history was just around the corner.
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Cabaret

A Delicate Balance

STARRING: Glenn Close, John Lithgow, Martha Plimpton, Lindsay Duncan, Bob Balaban, Clare Higgins
WHEN: October 20 – February 22, 2015
WHERE: John Golden Theatre / adelicatebalancebroadway.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Three-time Tony Award-winner Glenn Close (DamagesSunset Boulevard) makes her overdue return to the Broadway stage in this revival of Edward Albee’s exploration of a long-married couple during the course of a weekend when their daughter returns home after the dissolution of her fourth marriage. Meanwhile, their home also acts as a refuge for some of their friends and an alcoholic sister. And you thought your family reunions were dramatic.
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A Delicate Balance

It’s Only A Play

STARRING: Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally, Rupert Grint, F. Murray Abraham, Micah Stock 
WHEN: 
Now through January 4, 2015
WHERE: 
Schoenfeld Theatre / itsonlyaplay.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: 
Terrence McNally’s biting, hilarious satire on the world of theater makes its Broadway debut with an all-star cast. As a panicked playwright nervously awaits the reviews of the opening night of his new show, he shares his anxieties with the production’s drug-addled lead actress, a television star, a snide critic, a first-time producer, a young director, and the coat check guy. What ensues is a chaotic, and uproarious look at what it takes to put up a Broadway production.
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It’s Only A Play

The Elephant Man

STARRING: Bradley Cooper, Patricia Clarkson, Alessandro Nivola, Anthony Heald, Scott Lowell, Kathryn Meisle, Henry Stram
WHEN: 
November 7 – February 15, 2015
WHERE: 
Booth Theatre / elephantmanbroadway.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: 
Set in 19th century England, The Elephant Man is based on the true story of Joseph Merrick, star of a traveling freak show. As Merrick’s popularity rises, he attracts the attention of a beautiful actress who’s fascinated by his story and profound intelligence. Cooper and Clarkson have both proven to be some of the most versatile screen actors around, so it’ll be exciting to see how that translates to the stage. Sorry Ryan Murphy, but this is the freak show we’re most excited about.
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The Elephant Man

Side Show

STARRING: Erin Davie, Emily Padgett, Ryan Silverman, David St. Louis, Matthew Hydzik
WHEN: October 28 – TBD
WHERE: St. James Theatre / sideshowbroadway.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Academy Award-winning director Bill Condon (ChicagoDreamgirls) makes his Broadway debut with this retooled musical revival based on the incredible true story of twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Set in the 1920s and 30s, Side Show follows the sisters’ journey as they go from being vaudeville acts to glamorous Hollywood stars, all while looking for love and a sense of normalcy under the spotlight. The original 1997 production launched the careers of Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner, and based on what we’ve seen so far, Davie and Padgett seem to be on the same path.
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Side Show

Les Misérables

STARRING: Ramin Karimloo, Will Swenson, Caissie Levy, Nikki M. James, Andy Mientus
WHEN: Now – TBD
WHERE: Imperial Theatre / lesmis.com/broadway
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Ramin Karimloo. Plain and simple, Karimloo is the most talented actor to ever take on the role of Jean Valjean. Making his Broadway debut after a successful career on the West End, Karimloo has a jaw dropping voice that makes this musical soar to breathtaking new heights (and it doesn’t hurt that he’s not upsetting to look at either). With this revival, Broadway has found a leading man who has the ability to not only make an old musical feel new and exciting again, but someone who will undoubtedly become one of the most revered stage actors of our time.
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Les Misérables

The Real Thing

STARRING: Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cynthia Nixon
WHEN: 
Now through Jan 4, 2015
WHERE: 
American Airlines Theatre / roundabouttheatre.org
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: 
This revival of Tom Stoppard’s acclaimed play-within-a-play explores what happens when life starts imitating art. A playwright who’s unhappily married to the lead in his current play about a marriage that’s falling apart starts to have an affair with their mutual friend. But as their relationship progresses, he starts to wonder where the boundaries between truth and fiction lie. A complex look into married life, this production promises to pack a punch as powerful as the performances within.
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The Real Thing

Originally published on PopBytes