Marquee Appeal

Sheena Easton is happy to add 'Dreamcoat' role to her resume

By ORLA SWIFT, Staff Writer

RALEIGH -- Sheena Easton seared her sex kitten image into mid-'80s pop culture consciousness with breathy hits such as "Strut" and the erotic, Prince-penned "Sugar Walls."
So it may be a surprise to hear a fellow cast member in N.C. Theatre's production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" say that Easton fuels her role as the Narrator with a strong maternal aura.

Of course, that maternal aura may stem from the facts that the former video vamp is a mother of two and that she has covered a lot of ground since her days singing alongside the Purple One.

"Nothing scares me," Easton says. Indeed, without risk and change, her career would have ended long ago, after she broke onto the pop charts in 1981 with "Morning Train (Nine to Five)," a tune about a dutiful wife waiting at home for her hard-working hubby to return from his job.

"If it was one thing over and over again -- if I was the purple cat in 'Cats' or something for the next 15 years -- I'd quit," she says. "I know people like that. I have friends, and that's their resume: 'I've done "Les Miz," every production,' whatever it is they say. Good for you. I'm sure you're the best in that role that there will ever be in the world. But I'd kill myself. I have to mix it up."

Now 46, Easton has had a solo show for years at Aladdin Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. She starred on Broadway in "Man of La Mancha" and "Grease." She played the wife of Don Johnson's character in television's "Miami Vice," and she plays Queen Anne in PAX TV's "Young Blades."

The Scottish-born actor-singer has been busy behind the scenes, too. She was the voice of the Irish setter Sasha in the animated film "All Dogs Go to Heaven 2" and the related television series, and she has done voices for various characters in Disney's animated "Gargoyles" series.

Ever since she arrived in Raleigh for rehearsals, Easton has been putting in workdays that make 9 to 5 seem like a siesta.

"I get here at the crack of dawn every day, and she's the next one here with her iPod on, working through everything," says "Joseph" director Casey Hushion, 27, who also directed NCT's recent "The King and I" with Lou Diamond Phillips and "Jekyll & Hyde" with Sebastian Bach.

"She has this incredible level of integrity that's been inspiring our whole cast to step up to the plate and do what she's doing, and put in that much work and that much passion and that much heart," Hushion says. "So she's been an inspiration that way."

A single mom, Easton says she wants her children to learn good work habits from her. A four-time divorcee, Easton adopted two children, Jake, 10, and Skylar, 9.

"I use my job as a way to stress responsibility: 'Everybody's part of a team and even your boss has a boss, and even though Mommy doesn't have an obvious boss, I still have a boss. When I'm working on a show, my director's my boss. My producer's my boss. The audience expects me to be there. They're my boss,' " she says.

"So I try to set examples like that and just let them know that the entertainment industry isn't just glamour and showing up and dressing up and getting a big fat paycheck. It's work and discipline and rehearsal and learning. ... They see that it's not all fluff and puff."

They can see other things, too, if they look hard enough. Surf to VH-1 for a video of "Sugar Walls" or peruse a used record store for some old Easton album covers, and the words on her pouty lips don't appear to be "work hard." Surely, Mommy has had some explaining to do.

Nah, says Easton.

"My kids know that a miniskirt and big hair and a quick toss of the hair and a pout at the camera, that's acting. That's you being that moment," says Easton, who won two Grammy Awards. "You're acting out what the song is, that's what you're doing."

The key is humor, she says.

"Even now, when I put on my makeup and I'm ready to go out, I'll go, 'Do I look FAH-bulous?' They'll go, 'Oh, Mom.' It's like, 'Please,'" she says. "They'll look at a video and go, 'Ha! You look so funny!' I'll go, 'Hush! I was fabulous.' "

This will be Easton's first time as the Narrator in "Joseph," a role she says she's been approached for many times over the years. N.C. Theatre's short rehearsal and performance schedule enabled her to squeeze it in.

"Joseph" was the first collaboration between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, who also co-wrote "Jesus Christ, Superstar" and "Evita." Ray Walker will play Joseph, as he did for N.C. Theatre in 1998 and as Donny Osmond's understudy in the North American tour. He said Easton adds dimension to the Narrator role.

"There's a real theatrical quality to her voice that I don't think people have heard before," says Walker, whose Broadway credits include "Jesus Christ, Superstar." "With a lesser actor or vocalist, you can lose the Narrator. But she has such a commanding presence that you're really listening to her the whole time."