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Originally published Monday, November 12, 2012 at 4:27 AM

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Cheyenne Jackson strips down in 'The Performers'

These are not fun days for Cheyenne Jackson when it comes to his diet. He faces more restrictions on what goes in his mouth than an Olympic athlete.

AP Drama Writer

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NEW YORK —

These are not fun days for Cheyenne Jackson when it comes to his diet. He faces more restrictions on what goes in his mouth than an Olympic athlete.

"I don't have any bread. I've given up sugar. I don't eat dairy. And I haven't had a drink in four months," says the actor, who also has a trainer and works out six days a week.

Such is the cost of playing a porn star onstage.

Jackson, the hunky star of musical comedies such as "Xanadu" and "All Shook Up" and TV's "30 Rock," has little choice as he portrays an adult film actor who fancies himself an artist in the new Broadway play "The Performers."

Stripping down to his skivvies onstage has senat Jackson to the gym and ended all late-night snacking. Chatting in his dressing room, he is chiseled, his muscles bulging. It has been worth the sacrifice, he says.

"That's what you have to do to make the character live," he says. "I did not want to be self-conscious at all onstage when I'm sitting out there with everything hanging out." Oh, and by the way, no prosthetics were used: "This isn't `Boogie Nights,'" he says with a laugh.

Written by David West Read, the romantic comedy centers on two couples forced to reevaluate what's important in their lives when they meet at the Adult Film Awards. Jackson stars along with Ari Graynor, Daniel Breaker, Alicia Silverstone and Henry Winkler.

Jackson, who plays the stud Mandrew, says it was the most joyous script he'd read in two years. "It's such a funny, sweet love story," he says. "It's raunchy and silly and lovely."

That's just what Jackson was looking for during what he calls this, his year of "going for it." At 37, he's gotten married, played roles on TV and in several films. He's even putting the final touches on his debut CD.

"I just feel more settled. I feel stronger," he says. "If something scares me, I want to do it."

So if the safe thing was to look for a musical - he's done six in a row in his 10 years in New York - then he wanted to find his first play. And not a safe, polite play, either.

"I'm in this for the long haul," he says. "I want to work forever and I want to do a variety of things. I want to be like Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler - people who can do every genre."

Evan Cabnet, who directs Jackson in "The Performers," says the actor's natural boyish enthusiasm blends perfectly with the wide-eyed joy of his latest character.

"I don't know a lot of people who could make this role that charming naturally. He does," Cabnet says. "Obviously, we feel blessed because he's so incredibly talented. And no one in the American theater looks better in their underwear than that guy."

Jackson has had a very busy 2012. On the small screen, he has appeared in NBC's "Mockingbird Lane," Bryan Fuller's re-imagining of the 1960s sitcom "The Munsters" and a final "30 Rock" episode.

Up next is HBO's "Behind the Candelabra," in which he plays Liberace's boyfriend opposite Michael Douglas in the title role, and two indie films - "Mutual Friends" with Caitlin Fitzgerald and "Lucky Stiff," a musical with Jason Alexander. He can currently be seen in Michael Walker's workplace tale "Price Check."

He's perhaps most excited about the album, not yet titled. It's a collection of songs he's written with Sia Furler. Two songs have been released - "Drive" and "Before You" - and he hopes to have the entire CD finished by spring.

"I love harmonies and I love big hooks. I love really melodic things and I love lyrics that are relatable," he says, adding that his music has elements of George Michael, Sting, pop and world beat.

He's discovered that he has a talent for writing songs and has just sold his first one to a European singer. Testing the water by releasing a safe CD wasn't an option. "I didn't just want to do `Cheyenne Jackson Sings Gershwin.' That's not interesting to me," he says.

Jackson's sporting two new tattoos - an initial "Z" on his inner right arm and the initial "M" on his inner left.

The "M" is for his husband, physicist Monte Lapka, the man he married last year after 12 years of dating. His secret for a good union? "Two bathrooms will make a marriage last, I believe," he says with a laugh.

The "Z" has a sadder origin: It's for his 9-year-old adopted Rottweiler mix Zora, who died of cancer in March. Jackson points to the spot where the tattoo was inked and says he was holding her there when she died. "That's exactly where her heart stopped beating. It was so life changing for Monty and I both that I just thought, `I need to honor that spot with something.'"

Jackson and Lapka didn't plan to adopt another dog after their heartbreak, but Bernadette Peters, the actress and animal rescue activist, sent them a photo four months ago of a homeless mutt who melted their hearts. Brillo is now a happy member of their family.

Jackson's year of change will culminate in Washington, D.C. He's due to sing music from the "Mad Men" era at the Kennedy Center with members of the National Symphony Orchestra on Dec. 31. That's a sober New Year's Eve for him.

"I'm not drinking now anyway so it'll be easy-breezy," he says with a smile.

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Online:

http://www.theperformersonbroadway.com

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Follow Mark Kennedy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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