This concert in lockdown was bookended by two very poignant pieces – the first, ‘Stand By Me’, has been a popular choice in these troubled times, particularly so as many actors of stage and screen sang it in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The last, ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’ by John Denver (1943-1997) involved his family – husband Jason Landau, and their twin children Willow and Ethan. One of the few songs not drawn from musical theatre (even ‘Teenage Dream’, made famous by Katy Perry, is one of the musical numbers in the West End’s & Juliet), it’s the song they all sing to one another every night, even if Jackson’s commitments to a show, movie or recording mean they must do it through FaceTime or Skype.
Not having heard Jackson’s backstory before, it was a highly interesting one. Raised in Oldtown, Idaho, right on the state border with Washington, his family was far from wealthy – he spent a significant amount of his childhood without running water at home. With no theatres in the local area, it was left to him, his brother Chris and his best friend Nathan to deploy their imaginations through roleplays conducted in the woods. Not having any formal training in acting or singing, he was taught to sing by his mother, who herself was self-taught, having listened to records by the likes of Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell.
He attended a touring production of Les Misérables whilst still at school, and that was when he was inspired to tread the boards (his French teacher, ironically, mispronounced the show’s title). In adulthood, he performed in theatre in Seattle, Washington from time to time whilst holding down a day job, but it was a combination of the 9/11 attacks in the United States in 2001 and a tragedy in the family that led him to think about whether he wanted to pursue acting full-time. So, he took up his fellow actor Marc Kudisch’s offer to get him introduced to various theatre industry figures if he moved to New York City.
With most of his film and television roles being speaking non-singing roles (with the notable exception of the movie version of the song cycle Hello Again), it naturally followed that most of the songs in this concert were drawn from Jackson’s musical career. When musical director and host Seth Rudetsky asked how he was able to sing with such an incredible range, Jackson replied that in his youth he would listen to records by Ella Fitzgerald as well as Elvis Presley (amongst many others), so from early on, hitting the high notes, as well as the low notes, came naturally.
For all the showtunes, though, it was a profoundly personal and self-penned song that tugged at the emotions most strongly. The background story to the song is that following a growth spurt during the summer holidays one year, Jackson returned to school several inches taller, such that the school’s football (American football, that is) coach insisted on inviting him to try out for the team.
Sensing hesitation from Jackson, the coach then suggested he could bring his father along to a match, just to see how things are done. What he saw was aggression and confrontation on the pitch, and his father made it clear that he would stand by his son whether he decided to join the team or not: “It’s okay that you are gentle / It’s okay that you are kind / It’s okay that you don’t wanna play like that / Be yourself, and I’ll be fine”.
There’s a richness and depth to Jackson’s singing voice, and I wouldn’t have known he’d skipped a verse whilst singing ‘Something’s Coming’ from West Side Story until it was pointed out afterwards. I certainly wouldn’t have known he hadn’t done any singing since lockdown started before this concert came along. A heart-warming and delightful ninety minutes.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Mark Cortale Presents
THE SETH CONCERT SERIES
CHEYENNE JACKSON with SETH RUDETSKY
Sunday, August 2nd at 8PM ET
Monday, August 3rd at 3PM ET
LIZ CALLAWAY with SETH RUDETSKY
Sunday, August 9th at 8PM ET
Monday, August 10th at 3PM ET
STEPHANIE J. BLOCK with SETH RUDETSKY
Sunday, August 16th at 8PM ET
Monday, August 17th at 3PM ET
RACHEL BAY JONES with SETH RUDETSKY
Sunday, August 23rd at 8PM ET
Monday, August 24th at 3PM ET
All tickets available at www.thesethconcertseries.com