Star singer, actor Cheyenne Jackson to present autobiographical cabaret

Broadway, TV and film star Cheyenne Jackson sings during a past performance. Jackson will open the 2024 spring season of Cabaret at the Commons on March 7.

His father taught him long ago to look for hidden hallmarks, for the signs and symbols to find guideposts that his footsteps were on the right mystical and practical path. Emmy- and Grammy-nominated performer Cheyenne Jackson remembers.

And those life lessons form the beginning, middle and end of the winding, 70-minute narrative known as his Signs of Life Cabaret at The Commons show to open the local series’ spring season March 7 in downtown Columbus. His 15 Broadway and off-Broadway shows, from “Finian’s Rainbow” to “Xanadu,” form much of the content.

Maybe 12 songs. Seems like 1,200 memories.

“I love to tell stories — to weave them through this as a long-form, cabaret narrative,” said the 48-year-old Jackson, speaking by phone from the Los Angeles home he shares with spouse and fellow actor Jason Landau and their 7-year-old twins. “This isn’t just a list (of songs). It really is autobiographical — and an example of how I’m stretching myself musically.”

Covers, with the help of musical director and pianist Paul Staroba (“he’s incredible”), include Ben. E. King’s “Stand by Me,” Donny Hathaway’s “Song For You,” and tunes from others such as Lady Gaga and Sam Smith. Plus, mid-show, he will include a personally powerful and stark original, titled “OK” about his father affirming his teen sensitivity and identity.

“It captures a seminal moment in my life,” he said.

The vulnerable lyrics also speak of Jackson’s own longing to affirm his own two twin children, Willow and Ethan.

“You’ll hear about my adventures of being a parent,” said the Dad whose Facebook feed overflows with tender shots of the two youngsters and especially hilarious Halloween costumed shots of the whole clan.

His 7-year-old kids got to see the show recently in Palm Springs, California. Until that night, the youngsters thought dad did only ensemble performances such as his Broadway, TV or film work. The father had to explain the solo spotlight concept beforehand as the children considered the matter.

“This is a whole concert — of just YOU?” Ethan and Willow asked. “You mean like Taylor Swift?”

So Jackson may be without Swifties, but goodness knows the Emmy- and Grammy-nominated performer boasts his share of fans. He’s sold out 54 Below in New York City. Same for Carnegie Hall in the Big Apple. He’s appeared in films such as “United 93” and TV’s “30 Rock,” “Glee” and more.

In cabaret concerts, Jackson aims to connect with an audience on a more personal level.

“I think that’s what we’re all hoping for — to see ourselves reflected in whatever we may be watching or whatever we may be listening to,” he said. “I’m trying to unzip my heart for an hour or so and share my experience so that people can find and see themselves somewhere amid my struggle and experience.

“That’s really what artists are for.”

His childhood struggles in Oldtown, Idaho, included a home with no running water for five years, and an outhouse instead.

“The thing about growing up in poverty is this: Whatever home environment your parents give you is what you cling to as your safety,” Jackson said. “I knew that we were poor, but that never defined me. And I have great parents.

“Much later, I came to realize some of the benefits of that kind of struggle. Because now, I think I appreciate things so much differently — and the life my husband and I have created. I want to make sure that our kids are aware and that they know that the house that we have and the car that we have — not everyone has that.

“I think that’s a great lesson.”

Jackson acknowledged that’s he’s still learning in other areas, including the limits — or perhaps the remarkable range — of his voice. He readily chuckled when relayed a line from one cabaret review that he “hit the low notes like Elvis and the high notes like Prince.”

“I’ve always tried to avoid labeling myself or putting my voice in a specific box,” he said. “I just like to sing, and I like to sing all kinds of music in all different styles and ranges.”

An eighth-grade teacher was the first to encourage him to be so free with a vocal instrument now spanning four-plus octaves.

“That’s the fun,” he said. “I like to sing songs that almost are out of my range, because it keeps things exciting.”

Just like finding the signs that he’s on the right path.

Come to the cabaret

Who: Grammy- and Emmy-nominated singer and actor Cheyenne Jackson in his show “Signs of Life” with musical director Paul Staroba.

When: 7:30 p.m. March 7.

Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in downtown Columbus.