Cheyenne Jackson: Rainbow High

Busy Broadway heartthrob and gay rights activist Cheyenne Jackson chats about his Finian’s Rainbow revival, his politically charged cabaret CD, and laying around in his underpants.




Two gay men singing traditional love songs could’ve come off as very cutesy and wink-wink. How did you avoid that?
It just really wasn’t an option. We wanted to show these songs in their most raw, purest form. I’ve done a lot of cutesy, wink-wink stuff and I’m kind of over it right now.

Feinstein’s at Loews Regency caters to a wealthy, older clientele that’s probably not the most progressive crowd in town. How did the gay subtext go over?
I’m sure there were some people who were scandalized. I knew the gay guys who saw me in Xanadu were going to come to see me at Feinstein’s, but Michael’s fan base is a lot of straight, rich, Upper East Siders. I know for a fact that some of those people didn’t come because of the thematic elements, but a lot of people who had never seen Michael ended up seeing him because of it. There were times during the show I’d overhear an older couple who couldn’t hear say, “Now, who’s this guy with Michael?” “I don’t know. I think he played Elvis.” So it was definitely a chance for both of us to expand our fan bases. But Feinstein’s is really expensive. Another reason I wanted to do the CD was because hardly any of my friends could afford to come see the show.

Michael has been known to change the gender in lyrics of female-sung standards — “The Man I Love,” for example, became “The Girl I Love” — so it’s refreshing to hear him sing about his “taste in men” in the song “Old Friend” on the album.
Michael grappled with that lyric in particular. He’s always sung it as “my taste in friends,” but when we were recording it in the studio, I said, “Try one where you say ‘my taste in men.’” When he listened to it back, he decided that it was the right decision to sing the lyric with “men.” He’s awesome and has nothing to hide.

You’re starring in the Broadway revival of Finian’s Rainbow, a very old-fashioned 1947 musical that deals with racism. Besides the fact that the new poster looks like a gay pride flag, does this production reflect the civil rights struggles of today?
There weren’t a lot of changes that needed to be made. It’s actually incredibly current, and it’s crazy how much stuff in the show we’re still dealing with. One of the reason people have shied away from the show for so many years is the fact that a racist Southern white senator gets turned black by a leprechaun. They used to use black face or masks, but somebody had the great idea to use two different actors, which is what we do.

Tags: Music