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After a 16-year absence, Broadway star Cheyenne Jackson returns home to perform with the Spokane Symphony

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With a gleaming white smile (almost blinding to stare at) and abs of steel (not as challenging to look at), Cheyenne Jackson is somewhat of a heartthrob in the gay community (just head to Google Images). But he's more than an appealing face: the Newport, Wash., raised talent is a Broadway actor, has made appearances on Glee and 30 Rock and sold out Carnegie Hall twice.

After high school graduation, Jackson settled in Spokane for six years, taking classes at Spokane Falls Community College and performing at Spokane Civic Theatre and Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre. Next week, after years away, Jackson returns to his roots for a musical revue accompanied by the Spokane Symphony.

About a month ago, he was back in the Big Apple (he lives in Los Angeles now) performing in a one-weekend engagement of the musical The Most Happy Fella. He phones from a bustling coffee shop just hours before call time, ready to talk about the upcoming Spokane experience.

INLANDER: You called me directly on the phone; you don't have an assistant or anything?

JACKSON: Hell, no. I do my own laundry and bed.

How does it feel to come back to Spokane? How long has it been?

I have literally not been back in 16 years; it's going to be surreal. It kind of chokes me up thinking about it. My family is coming from California [his parents recently moved] and all my friends in the theater scene in and around, and it's going to be a reunion of sorts. It's twofold; I'm removed but I'll always think of that area as home.

Why did you decide to come back and do this?

In the last three years I've been doing a lot of concert work and I really love it. I love the freedom of it, creating my own show. I'm not shackled to playing a character. I asked my booking people to reach out to Spokane and they said, "It's a hard area." [The show] happened anyway.

How does it feel to sing with a full orchestra behind you? Is that a favorite thing of yours?

I love it, but there are definitely pluses and minuses. To stand in front like that, it's physically and emotionally draining. It's a wall of sound behind you and there's nothing like it.

Last year you released an album of your own songs and worked with Matt Damon and Michael Douglas in a Liberace biopic. What are you working on next?

I'm a workaholic; I'm much better with 12 things to do. There are many things coming out this year. I shot two pilots for HBO. As I'm older, I'm doing more and more things. As my face changes and I age, I'm getting better and learning from the best.

You moved to New York at 26 and in six weeks got a role (understudy for Thoroughly Modern Millie). How did you deal with other people's reaction to that?

At the time I was so myopic. They needed someone who could sing baritone and fit multiple roles. I was just blind ... I had the balls, I didn't know the people I was auditioning for had won Tonys. They all thought, "Who is this guy? He doesn't even have headshots." But I believe I paid my dues acting other places [Spokane, Seattle] first.

You're singing from the Great American Songbook. Do you have some favorites that you have to sing?

Michael Feinstein [a Grammy-winning champion of the genre] and I did the Carnegie Hall show [and also an album] together a few years ago and I've learned about these wonderful pieces from him. The show will be everything from the '20s to the '60s, songs that stand the test of time by people like Cole Porter, Gershwin. This will be an amalgam of three shows I have — crowd-pleasing and not boring. Great music is great music. I love to talk on stage, make fun of myself. And since it's Spokane, it will be even more personal.

Will your fiancé (entrepreneur Jason Landau) be coming with you?

I don't think so. I know he wants to, to see this place that means so much. He's just so busy running two companies. ♦

Cheyenne Jackson sings the Great American Songbook with the Spokane Symphony • Tue, May 20, at 7:30 pm • $35/$48 • Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox • 1001 W. Sprague • spokanesymphony.org • 624-1200

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