Tony Award nominee
Robert Cuccioli is having many moments right
now -- except a moment to rest. Three days a
week, he's portraying legendary French
entertainer Maurice Chevalier in Off-Broadway's
Dietrich and Chevalier: The Musical
at St. Luke's Theatre; at the same time, he's
also preparing to direct the Westchester
Broadway Theatre's production of
Jekyll & Hyde, which begins previews
on September 30, and putting together a new
cabaret act, which he'll debut at
Feinstein's at Loews Regency on October 11.
TheaterMania recently spoke to Cuccioli about
how -- and why -- he is juggling these projects.
THEATERMANIA: Why have you decided to direct
this production of Jekyll & Hyde? You
starred in the show on Broadway and you've
directed it three times before. Aren't you tired
ROBERT CUCCIOLI: I know, it's a lot of work.
We have about eight days of rehearsals and a
couple of days of tech; it's like summer stock
that way. But just like when I am an actor and
when I'm doing a role that is fulfilling and
deep, I always find new things and make new
discoveries with this show. No two productions
are exactly alike.
TM: It must have been a strange audition
process to watch people try out for the role you
RC: It was probably nerve-wracking for a lot
of them to sing "This Is the Moment" in front of
me, but I have to say I found lots of brilliant
people. And I try to make it clear that I don't
expect anyone to do role the way I did it; as a
director, I try to be completely collaborative.
We finally cast this guy, Xander Chauncey, and I
think he's great. You really need someone who
can do justice to both of the roles -- a lot of
actors can do Jekyll, but can't do Hyde and vice
versa -- but I think he's found the right
TM: How much will this production resemble
the Broadway production?
TM: Let's talk about Dietrich and Chevalier.
What was your first reaction when you were
approached to portray Maurice Chevalier?
RC: There are things I took away from
Broadway that work very well and I intend to
keep. But I also enjoyed being in the
pre-Broadway tour, where the script was so
different. So in many ways, this is a devised
mutation of the two shows to create my vision of
the ultimate production of Jekyll & Hyde.
For one thing, we're restoring two songs that
were cut for Broadway, "Bring on the Men" and "I
Need to Know." Believe me, this is not a
slimmed-down show at all. Especially since it is
dinner theater, and we have a 30-minute
intermission so people can eat their peach melba
and have another drink.
RC: I was very hesitant, because I didn't
think I was anything like the man. That's
because my idea of him was really the same as
what most anyone remembers about him -- and
that's Gigi. But then I read the script,
and I thought it was interesting. I liked that I
wasn't being asked to do a tribute or mere
impersonation. And then I looked at some of his
earlier movies, and I realized looks-wise, we're
not as far off as people think.
TM: What have you learned about Chevalier
that truly surprised you?
RC: Actually, the most surprising thing is
what the play is about -- his relationship with
Marlene Dietrich. I would venture almost 100
percent of people who see the show never knew
that story. And I didn't fully realize that he
was essentially the poster child of France, and
that he went from such a height to the bottom of
the heap after he was accused of collaborating
with Nazis, and then he was resurrected. It's a
wonderful journey for an actor. I've never tried
to be a live action figure before, and
ultimately, its been a good challenge.
TM: What can you tell us about your show at
RC: I'm calling it "A Standard Love," because
I'm using old standards to do a story of one's
love life -- how a relationship begins, grows,
dies, even begin again. The hardest part is
selecting songs from the amount of material I am
going through, since I know it can't be a
six-hour evening. These are all songs I've never
done before, but I feel like I know them because
I've heard them so many times that they're
pretty much in me. What's important to me, also,
is to create a show I can bring elsewhere --
something I can do in concerts or with
symphonies. I admit that Feinstein's is a hell
of a place to do a tryout; I would have loved to
have done it a couple of places beforehand, but
we just didn't make that happen.
TM: You're also
supposed to take part in
Jacques Brel Returns, these concerts
of Jacques Brel songs that are running
periodically at the Triad for the rest of this
year. How do you keep all these projects
RC: Fortunately, the shows at the Triad are
using rotating casts, so I don't have to get
involved until after I finish the Feinstein's
show. There are just so many plates I can spin
in the air at once. But I am a very organized.
And I try to work on one thing at a time -- I
spend one day or half of one day on one project,
and then I go on to the next. Otherwise, it does
get very confusing and overwhelming. But this
year has been very productive for me. I'm not