Wednesday, August 10, 2005

REV: Kevin Cahoon/Ghetto Cowboy

From Creepy Menace to Glam Rocker
By ERIK PIEPENBURG, August 10, 2005,

The New York Times

On a Broadway stage, Kevin Cahoon is the Childcatcher, a menacing, heavily made-up creature in black who scares small children in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." On a downtown club stage, Mr. Cahoon is the lead singer for a glam rock band called Kevin Cahoon and Ghetto Cowboy, a menacing, heavily made-up punk rocker.

Anthropologists of the stage take note: Mr. Cahoon may be the missing link that separates the Hilton Theater and CBGB.

"I love interpreting a character, but I also like having my own voice as well," Mr. Cahoon said. "They're both so challenging in such different ways. In one you're an interpreter, and in the other you're expressing your own thoughts."

Eight times a week, Mr. Cahoon plays the Childcatcher, a ratlike character who looks like Stuart Little's taller Goth uncle and slinks around the stage with a scythe-like instrument used to snare children. Then occasionally on Sunday and Monday nights, when "Chitty" is dark, he plays with his band at downtown clubs. (The next performance is at the Cutting Room on Sept. 19.)

"If I wasn't doing a Broadway show it would be great to play with Ghetto Cowboy once a week downtown," he said. "But fortunately I have this amazing opportunity to be a Broadway performer. I want to embrace both of those things."

Mr. Cahoon, who writes most of the songs for his band, lists as influences legends of country music (Charley Pride, Dolly Parton) and rock and pop (Elvis Presley, Joan Jett).

"The first song we ever did was a cover of Anne Murray's 'Could I Have This Dance' from the 'Urban Cowboy' soundtrack, but we made it a punk tune," he said.

Mr. Cahoon said Ghetto Cowboy audiences usually consist of friends from the theater world, women "in their late 30's and early 40's" and teenagers "who make their own T-shirts." Also counted among fans of Mr. Cahoon is Anderson Cooper, the CNN news anchor, who has seen Ghetto Cowboy perform at CBGB and Don Hill's.

"He's stiletto sharp," Mr. Cooper said of Mr. Cahoon. "His sense of his own body and how he inhabits his own space is really unique. There's a physicality to him. "

Mr. Cahoon's musical tastes are the byproduct of a childhood saturated in the culture of the South. He grew up near Houston in what he calls a "rodeo family": Dad was a calf roper; an aunt was a barrel racer. Mr. Cahoon caught the entertainment bug early by performing as a rodeo clown when he was 6.

"My mom created makeup, and my grandmother made an outfit for me," he said. "I would create my own acts with animals, like a dog, pony and a monkey, and go out and do my thing."

Summers spent at theater camp eventually led to what, for teenagers in the 1980's, was the zenith of pop culture stardom: an appearance on "Star Search." He won the junior champion competition in 1985, but not with a country or rock song.

"I sang show tunes," Mr. Cahoon admitted, declining to say which ones.

After graduating from New York University, Mr. Cahoon was cast as a gang member in "The Who's Tommy" on Broadway, then originated the role of Ed the Hyena in "The Lion King." Before joining "Chitty," Mr. Cahoon received warm reviews for his role as Ellard Simms in the Off Broadway revival of "The Foreigner."

Mr. Cahoon was also a standby for John Cameron Mitchell in the title role in Mr. Mitchell's musical "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," which he repeated in productions in Boston and San Francisco. Mr. Mitchell said he was so taken with his voice that he went without a standby for nine months until Mr. Cahoon was released from his contract with "The Lion King."

"There's a lot of different people inside Kevin waiting to get out," Mr. Mitchell said. "He's a sweethearted guy, but he can pull out the creepy side too. I think he's like Sybil trapped in this nice guy's body."


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