Robert Cuccioli, Actor, Singer, Director – Episode #188

Jan 25, 2022 | 6 comments

An actor needs to be flexible. You need to be able to go with the flow. You need to be able to ride a wave. You need to be able to adapt to whatever is thrown at you and whether that’s on stage or whether that’s in life.
~Robert Cuccioli

The brilliant actor, singer, and director, Robert Cuccioli, is renowned for his critically acclaimed, Tony-nominated dual performance as the good Dr. Henry Jekyll and his sinister alter ego, Mr. Edward Hyde, in Jekyll & Hyde, The Musical. Prior to his sensational run in Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway, Robert dazzled audiences across America in the show’s pre-Broadway, first national tour. Both the tour and Broadway featured Linda Eder and Christiane Noll. For Broadway, Robert received Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and FANY Awards for Outstanding Actor in a Musical.

For the record, April 28, 2022 marks the 25th Anniversary of Jekyll & Hyde, The Musical opening on Broadway at the Plymouth Theater (now called the Schoenfeld Theater).

Robert’s other Broadway appearances include playing Javert in Les Miserables, and his high-flying performance in another dual role, Dr. Norman Osborn aka The Green Goblin in the rock musical Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.

Robert’s first big break was playing Lancelot opposite the legendary Richard Harris’s King Arthur in the U.S. and Canadian tours of Camelot. He’s also performed in Kander and Ebb’s, And The World Goes ‘Round, Off-Broadway as Nathan in The Rothschilds, and years later as Mayer Rothschild in Rothschild and Sons, which was also staged in London’s Off-West End.

Robert’s undertaken challenging roles at numerous theaters all over the U.S., appearing in Maury Yeston’s and Arthur Kopit’s Phantom of the Opera, leading roles in numerous productions of Shakespeare plays, and in classic plays and musicals like Amadeus, 1776, Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, The Sound Of Music, Funny Girl, Oklahoma!, The Man of La Mancha, Jesus Christ Superstar and many more.

He’s created roles in new musicals and plays, including, White Guy on The Bus, A Moon To Dance By (with Jane Alexander), and Bikeman: A 9/11 Play, among others.

TV credits include: The Sinner, Elementary, White Collar, Baywatch, Sliders, recurring roles on All My Children, One Life To Live, Loving and The Guiding Light. Also, you can see Robert in such movies as: The Stranger, The Rest of Us, Impossible Monsters, Columbus on Trial, and Woody Allen’s Celebrity.

As a director Robert has staged Jekyll & Hyde at Houston’s Theatre Under The Stars, the Westchester Broadway Theatre, North Shore Music Theatre, and here in Pittsburgh at the CLO. He’s also directed productions of The Glass Menagerie and The Merchant of Venice at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.

Robert has sung at a host of venues around the U.S., and his exceptional voice can be heard on the original Broadway cast recording of Jekyll & Hyde, and on the cast recordings of Rothschild and Sons, And The World Goes ‘Round, The Maury Yeston Songbook, and Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris. And please be sure to check out Robert’s debut solo album, “The Look Of Love.”

PLEASE NOTE: Our humble apologies for technical audio issues mid-show that were beyond our control. Despite the less than ideal sound quality, Robert gives us the gift of his great experience and deep wisdom.




Read the Podcast Transcript

Steve Cuden: On today’s StoryBeat…

Robert Cuccioli: An actor needs to be flexible. You need to be able to go with the flow. You need to be able to ride a wave. You need to be able to adapt to whatever is thrown at you and whether that’s on stage or whether that’s in life.

Narrator: This is StoryBeat with Steve Cuden, a podcast for the creative mind. StoryBeat explores how masters of creativity develop and produce brilliant works that people everywhere love and admire. So join us as we discover how talented creators find success in the worlds of imagination and entertainment. Here now is your host, Steve Cuden.

Steve Cuden: Thanks for joining us on StoryBeat. We’re coming to you from the Steel City, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My guest today, the brilliant actor, singer, and director Robert Cuccioli, is renowned for his critically acclaimed Tony nominated dual performance as the good Dr. Henry Jekyll and his sinister alter ego, Mr. Edward Hyde in a little musical I know something about called Jekyll and Hyde. For the record, I conceived the show and wrote the original book and lyrics in collaboration with Composer Frank Wildhorn prior to his sensational run in Jekyll and Hyde on Broadway. Robert dazzled audiences across America in the show’s pre-Broadway first national tour. Both the tour and Broadway featured Linda Eder and Chris-Ann Knoll. For Broadway, Robert received Drama Desk, Outer Critic Circle, and FANY Awards for Outstanding Actor in a musical.

Robert’s other Broadway appearances include playing Javert in Le Miserable and his high-flying performance in another dual role, Dr. Norman Osborne, AKA, the Green Goblin in the Rock musical Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark. Robert’s first big break was playing Lancelot opposite the legendary Richard Harris’s King Arthur in the US and Canadian tours of Camelot. He’s also performed in Kander and Ebb’s, and the World Goes Round off-Broadway as Nathan in the Rothschilds and years later as Mayer Rothschild in Rothschild & Sons, which was also staged in London’s off West End. Robert’s undertaken challenging roles at numerous theaters all over the US appearing in Mary Estin’s and Arthur Cockpit’s Phantom of the Opera, leading roles in numerous productions of Shakespeare plays and in classic plays in musicals like Amadeus 1776, Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, the Sound of Music, Funny Girl, Oklahoma, the Man of La Mancha, Jesus Christ Superstar and many more.

He’s created roles in new musicals and plays, including White Guy on the Bus, A Moon to Dance By with Jane Alexander and Bikeman, a 9/11 play among others. TV credits include The Center, Elementary, White Collar, Baywatch, Sliders, recurring roles on All My Children, One Life to Live, Loving and The Guiding Light. Also, you can see Robert in such movies as The Stranger, the Rest of Us, Impossible Monsters, Columbus on Trial, and Woody Allen’s Celebrity. As a director, Robert has staged Jekyll and Hyde at Houston’s Theater Under the Stars, the Westchester Broadway Theater, North Shore Music Theater, and here in Pittsburgh at the CLO. He’s also directed productions of the Glass Menagerie and the Merchant of Venice at the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey.

Robert has sung at a host of venues around the US and his exceptional voice can be heard on the original Broadway cast recording of Jekyll and Hyde, and on the cast recordings of Rothschild & Sons and the World Goes Round the Marie Eaton songbook and Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Please be sure to check out Robert’s debut solo album, the Look of Love. So for all those reasons and many more, I am beyond thrilled to have the extraordinarily multi-talented Robert Cuccioli as my guest on StoryBeat Today. Rob, I’m so very glad to welcome you to the show.

Robert Cuccioli: Steve, it’s so good to see you and to hear you. That was quite an introduction. What do you need me for now?

Steve Cuden: Well, we’re all done. Have a nice day. See you. Yeah.

Robert Cuccioli: Exactly.

Steve Cuden: So let’s go back in history a little bit. You’ve been at this acting game and the stage game for a little while. But at what age were you when the bug first bit you that you wanted to do this thing?

Robert Cuccioli: Well, that’s a complicated answer. I’ll try to give you the Reader’s Digest version of it.

Steve Cuden: Sure.

Robert Cuccioli: This is actually my second career. I started off in finance.

Steve Cuden: Doesn’t everybody in show business?

Robert Cuccioli: No. A lot of people just come out of the womb knowing that they want to do this, but I did not. I pursued a career as a corporate lawyer.

Steve Cuden: Wow.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. I went to St. John’s University for a finance degree. But all through my younger years, all through my elementary school years and my high school and college years, I did some variation of music, whether it be glee clubs or the drama clubs in our high school and also in college. But I never thought of doing it as a career.

Steve Cuden: But you were singing from early on. You knew you had a voice.

Robert Cuccioli: I sang, but I did it for fun. I didn’t do it as a goal to anything else. I would sing while I cut the lawn. I always enjoyed it. I always loved rock music and I would always sing at the top of my lungs when I was cutting a lawn so that nobody would hear me because the lawnmower always drowns me out. But again, I never thought of doing it as a career until my senior year of college when I was doing GodSpell of all things. It was then that people said to me you’re really good. Did you ever think of doing this as a career? That’s when the light bulb went off. I said, if I don’t give this a shot, I’m going to say, what if, all my life? I didn’t want to live with that. So I already bought the sheepskin. I had a degree and I figured I might as well use it in the meantime. So I got a job on Wall Street for a company called EF Hutton which people my age and older would know. But the younger people these days have no idea who that is. What company that is. But it was a big deal back in the eighties. I got a lovely entry level job there. I enjoyed it, but I always was pursuing theater on the side. This was down on Wall Street. So I’d go uptown on my lunch hours and slide my picture and resume under doors and do auditions. Things like that. It wasn’t until I got an audition for a company called the Light Opera of Manhattan, shortened to LOOM. I had a friend of mine who was working in the costume department. He got me an audition there, and I got a job. Now, the Light Opera Manhattan was a 52 week out of the year repertory company. They did Gilbert and Sullivan, an operetta and all that sort of stuff. You did a new show every two weeks. So I got a job in the chorus making $35 a week and I stayed working at the EF Hutton during the day. So I would work at Hutton during the day. I’d go up at night and I’d rehearse a show and then do another show that night. Then go back out to Long Island after that, and then come back in the next morning and do the whole routine all over again.

Steve Cuden: Presumably we’re making more money at EF Hutton than $35 a week.

Robert Cuccioli: Oh, yeah. So call me crazy. I don’t know. But I did both for quite a while until I couldn’t do both anymore.

Steve Cuden: How exhausted were you at that point?

Robert Cuccioli: I was a lot younger. Somehow, I did it. I don’t remember being tired, but I was younger. I must have been tired. But it was fun. I was enjoying things, and I was enjoying my life. But after about a year and a half of doing both, I said I couldn’t do both anymore. So I quit EF Hutton. My parents cried. I started down the path of darkness of theater. I never looked back after that.

Steve Cuden: You went from a life of a certain degree of surety to one of complete you don’t know where you’re going next.

Robert Cuccioli: Exactly.

Steve Cuden: That makes it incredibly challenging, and I understand why your parents cried.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. They just didn’t have any reference. My parents were not theater people. They were middle class folks. My dad was an engineer. My mom was a housewife. She raised me and my sisters. She was also an artist in her younger years. But they didn’t know anything about theater other than what they read in the tabloids, and that’s never a good thing. So they always just were afraid for me, and I understand totally where they were coming from.

Steve Cuden: So many people think of, as you say, they come out of the womb knowing they’re going to be a performer of some kind, or a writer of some kind. Something like that. Many people find it to be a calling. Over time, have you realized that it is your calling? Is that what happened?

Robert Cuccioli: It did. I gravitated towards this, and I jumped in with both feet. I had no training whatsoever when I first started.

Steve Cuden: No schooling of any kind?

Robert Cuccioli: No. I had no training whatsoever. Everything that I’ve learned has been trial and error and, and it still is. I have trained both as an actor and a singer since I had become an actor, because I joined this profession. I never had any formal schooling.

Steve Cuden: That’s extraordinary. I mean, everybody you probably have worked with had some kind of training prior to going into it.

Robert Cuccioli: Oh, yeah. Most people, like I said, most people I would say in this business know that they want to do this one at a very young age, and they pursue it through their school years.

Steve Cuden: Sure. So, I’m curious. Having had no training, have you found it to be a deficit in any way? Or have you found it to be a positive in some way?

Robert Cuccioli: It’s a little bit of both. I think it’s been a positive in that I had a life prior to this. So I have interests outside of theater. I’m not tunnel visioned. I wasn’t tunnel visioned all my life about theater, theater, theater, theater. So I think that that was an advantage. The disadvantage is that when you’re in school, you go through all sorts of classes on training of the classics and theater history and training with your voice and also certain acting techniques. You also develop a network of contacts and people in the business that I did not have when I started. I had to develop them slowly but surely on my own, as opposed to being in class with all these people. So it was a lot of that. So that was a negative.

Steve Cuden: One of the things that I tell my students and others who ask and you’re alluding to it, is that school does more than just give you academic training. It actually enables you to meet people and learn the business and have trial and error where you can fail and you can fail without any threat to a career. So being in school has advantages. Though clearly, you are the best example I know of that you don’t need it in order to have some success.

Robert Cuccioli: I don’t think one necessarily needs it, but it’s certainly a good thing to do.

Steve Cuden: It’s helpful. It’s for sure.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. It’s helpful.

Steve Cuden: Let’s talk about your path a little bit. Obviously, you do dramas and Shakespeare and various plays, but you specialize generally in musicals. You’re known for doing musicals. What is it about musicals, aside from the fact that you sing like an angel? What attracts you to the form called musicals? Is it the singing or is it something else?

Robert Cuccioli: Honestly, I fell into it because I had a natural voice. I was blessed with a God-given voice, and that I certainly trained to get better. But I always wanted to act. I always was attracted to the straight drama side of things, but the voice got me the work. That’s what started me with musicals. One of the beautiful things about the two meshing is that when I came up in this career, so many of the musicals that I was coming across were dramatic in form. Even the old classics. But things like Phantom of the Opera, and Le Miserable, they allowed me to combine what I could do and what I wanted to do as far as like my singing and also my desire to be known as an actor. Does that make sense?

Steve Cuden: It makes total sense. Do you think of yourself more as an actor who sings, or a singer who acts or is it just a true mesh?

Robert Cuccioli: I think it’s a true mesh now. These days I do probably 50% of both. I do both musicals and straight plays, whether they be classics or contemporary. So it’s a pure mix right now. I don’t know whether I would classify myself as a singer who acts or an actor who sings.

Steve Cuden: Right. Because we know that they exist. That they’re both sides of it. People get cast because they sing like crazy but can’t act all that well. We know that the reverse is true. That they act great, but they’re not such great singers. We know both. I mean, Rex Harrison had a hell of a career, and he was not what you would call a singer. So how long do you think it was after you started into the business? After you left EF Hutton and you were really going at it, how long do you think it was before you felt like you really were good at it and that you were on the right path? That you had made the right choice?

Robert Cuccioli: I think that that started happening both for me and also for my parents. When I got cast in Camelot opposite Richard Harris.

Steve Cuden: A very big deal.

Robert Cuccioli: It was a huge deal. He was a name that I knew, and I admired. I had watched his career before I got to meet him and work with him. It was certainly a name that my parents recognized because he was a star of their generation.

Steve Cuden: Sure.

Robert Cuccioli: So when that happened, it made me feel, okay, this is definitely something I can do, and this is something that I’m good at. It put me in a category that both I recognize and also my parents.

Steve Cuden: It wasn’t fly by night or rinky-dink, and you were actually making money doing it. It was on a big platform.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: Alright. So when you are looking at parts, what for you makes a role attractive? What makes a role good for you? What kind of parts do you look for?

Robert Cuccioli: I look for a true three-dimensional character or one that I can make. So those tend to be the darker ones. I find them more interesting, to be honest with you. I love exploring the darker side of characters that have certain flaws to them. Like I said, those tend to be the darker ones, but there are the non-dark ones too that have flaws. I like to explore those.

Steve Cuden: Many great stars that I’ve listened to and read about, they frequently prefer to play the villain or the heavy or the darker parts because they are more interesting to chew on. Heroes tend to be a little bit more straightforward and a little tougher to get sort of fascinating about.

Robert Cuccioli: They are. But there’s also the anti-hero. The flawed hero. Those I enjoy too. The leading man that’s not so perfect.

Steve Cuden: So talking about dark roles, we’ll talk about Jekyll and Hyde for a moment. I don’t want to dwell on Jekyll and Hyde. That’s not what the purpose of the show is. But my assumption is that when you got cast as Jekyll in Jekyll and Hyde, that was a very big break for you at that moment. Yes?

Robert Cuccioli: Absolutely. Yeah.

Steve Cuden: So it was important to your overall career at that moment?

Robert Cuccioli: It was, yeah. I mean, that show changed my life and the whole trajectory of my career.

Steve Cuden: I imagine it did, because prior to that, you were not as big a name in the theater world as you became from it. Yeah.

Robert Cuccioli: It was starting. It was beginning because I was doing great work and great works, rather. Musicals that were exciting and got a lot of attention. I therefore got attention from them, whether they be, I had the first revival of the musical, the Rothschilds. That was off-Broadway and the World Goes Round, which was the Kander and Ebb musical review that catapulted people like Scott Ellis, the director, and also Susan Stroman, our choreographer, and all of us that were involved with it. I mean, that was a huge deal. Then I got Les Mis which was my Broadway debut, and then Jekyll and Hyde came right after that. So there was a progression happening. Jekyll and Hyde though, I totally skipped a bunch of steps.

Steve Cuden: It catapulted you is what it did.

Robert Cuccioli: Yes. So to speak.

Steve Cuden: Do you think that you would’ve been just as happy if you’d had a journeyman’s career that never went to those heights?

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. I mean, it’s about the work and it’s about the personal journey. I’ve learned in my career that it’s really about that kind of growth. That excites me. I’m more in competition with myself than with anybody else. It’s about always improving myself.

Steve Cuden: So you look for shows that will help you improve yourself then too?

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah, pretty much. I mean, if it doesn’t scare me, it’s not really something to pursue.

Steve Cuden: You hear this frequently from people who are in the business. That if the part doesn’t scare them, they know something’s not quite right.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. I mean, if it scares you, then there’s something about it that is—and I apologize for the noise, but there’s—

Steve Cuden: Construction.

Robert Cuccioli: There’s construction going on. There’s nowhere else to hide.

Steve Cuden: I’ve told many people over a long period of time that it really is about the journey. If you ever think you’ve arrived, you’re in trouble.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah, I think so. I mean, it’s called a craft for a reason.

Steve Cuden: Yep.

Robert Cuccioli: It’s like doctors are called a practice and lawyers are called a practice. It’s something that you always work at. You always work towards. You always work to improve.

Steve Cuden: I assume that over time various people have come up to you and ask you, how do you have a career? How do you get your break? How do you move to the next level? Those kinds of things. I’m sure you get asked those questions by people who are trying to either break in or actually they’re in and they’re trying to go somewhere with it. Do you have something that you tell them about having a career in the theater? Do you tell them that it’s just a journey and to keep at it? What do you tell them?

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah, pretty much. Because everyone’s journey is completely different. How I got to where I am is totally different than somebody else. So for me to say, this is how you do it is ridiculous because there’s no one way to do it other than always strive to be a better actor. How do you do that? You constantly train even after you supposedly make it. Our goal as an actor is to understand human nature and to imitate it, to create characters. So you need to understand yourself. You need to understand other people. Human nature. You need to understand the workings of things around you. You need to understand the workings of the world. No one just knows that. You need to constantly work at it. I think that that’s part of getting better.

Steve Cuden: Alright. So you have, I think, uniquely managed to find yourself playing two huge parts that are both dual characters. That are split characters. So the Green Goblin and Jekyll and Hyde are both dual characters. What do you think that it was within you that was enabled you to find those two sides? As Stevenson said, the polar opposites. The polar twins. Where did you find that?

Robert Cuccioli: I’d be lying if I said that, oh, there’s not two sides to me. There are two sides to everybody.

Steve Cuden: Sure there are.

Robert Cuccioli: I was not afraid to tap into that darker side. I was not afraid to go there. Honest to goodness, the harder of the two roles for me was the supposed good guy.

Steve Cuden: Sure.

Robert Cuccioli: It was because it was closer to who I am in my everyday world that I was basically trying to play myself. You’ll ask any actor, that’s the hardest thing for an actor to do, is to play yourself or someone who is that close to you.

Steve Cuden: It’s supposedly. I don’t know for my own personal self, but maybe you can answer this. One of the more difficult things to do on camera is just walk because how do you walk as that character?

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. Exactly.

Steve Cuden: It sounds simple, and it sounds ridiculous, but that’s one of the more challenged…

Robert Cuccioli: There’s a whole Monty Python sketch to that regard. Right.

Steve Cuden: The Ministry of Solace.

Robert Cuccioli: Exactly.

Steve Cuden: Exactly. I’m going to get off of Jekyll in one second. But that was a mountain of a park to climb, was it not?

Robert Cuccioli: Oh, yeah. Yeah. It was one of the greatest experiences of life.

Steve Cuden: What I want to ask you is, what were the biggest challenges? Was it the vocal challenge to get through? Was it the physical challenge? Was it both? What were the big challenges and what did you then do to overcome those challenges?

Robert Cuccioli: It was a combination of all of them. It was an incredible vocal challenge to try to sing sounding like two different voices. Physically it was challenging. It was a marathon. Also physically to be these two different beings. It was an emotional challenge, and it was an acting challenge. So how did I overcome them? I trained vocally. Every week I have a voice lesson to make sure that I was tuned. That I wasn’t getting off track and I was keeping my voice totally in line in doing what I was doing. I’d go to the chiropractor three times a week. He said, basically, it looks like you were in a car accident every time you come in here.

Steve Cuden: Wow.

Robert Cuccioli: So I was throwing myself on the ground. I was throwing myself over lab tables. I mean, it was just crazy. Yeah.

Steve Cuden: Very physical.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. I went to therapy once a week just to keep my head straight because it was a lot of pressure to lead a new show and to have that much responsibility and, you’re dealing with awards at the same time. Opening night and awards seasons and things like that. You need to keep your head straight.

Steve Cuden: Recording a cast album and all the rest of it.

Robert Cuccioli: That’s exactly right. We recorded a cast album at the same time.

Steve Cuden: You’re doing the confrontation alone, which was one person playing two parts at the same time. That had to have been physically challenging just by itself.

Robert Cuccioli: It was. I mean, there were a couple of times after I sang the first note and there was a blackout that I felt like I was going to pass out.

Steve Cuden: Wow.

Robert Cuccioli: I kind of got my way off stage. Because it was just physically and also you’d spend all that air. There’s no more air inside your body.

Steve Cuden: Wow.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. Sometimes it was that intense.

Steve Cuden: Well, the world is glad that you did it. I’m certainly glad that you did it, that’s for sure.

Robert Cuccioli: I am too. Thank you.

Steve Cuden: Alright, so let’s talk about auditioning. What is your philosophy toward auditioning? How do you prepare to audition? What can you tell folks about your philosophy?

Robert Cuccioli: There’s not an audition that I don’t go to, that I’m not nervous about. That’s a natural thing. Because auditioning is not quite acting. It is acting, but it’s another animal in itself. It’s a talent all of itself. There are some people that are marvelous actors that are horrible auditioners. There are amazing auditioners that are not the best actors. So how do you mesh the two? What do you do to get through this process? This was a philosophy that came to me from another friend, in that you need to think of it as, hey, this is the only time I may get to play this character.

Steve Cuden: Interesting.

Robert Cuccioli: So I’m going to do it the best I can and just enjoy doing it. It puts your mind in a performance headset as opposed to an audition headset, which I think is very useful. I’ve found that I’ve enjoyed auditioning more thinking in those terms.

Steve Cuden: You think of it as actually performing, not just auditioning.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. It may be the only time I got a chance to play this character. So let’s see what I can do with it. Let’s see what fun I can have with it.

Steve Cuden: I think that’s a very wise outlook on it, because otherwise it feels like it’s some kind of a burdensome task versus, you’re doing something that is toward a conclusion. An actual act that you’re doing which is of course ultimately what all acting is, isn’t it? There’s an objective that you must achieve in a scene, and you go for that.

Robert Cuccioli: Right.

Steve Cuden: Right. So let’s talk about your approach to performance. When you begin to work on a role, you get cast in something, aside from reading the script, which is obviously the first step, what is your approach? How do you develop a character? What are your first steps?

Robert Cuccioli: I guess the first steps are to see how I can put myself into this character. That’s what makes doing the same part by different people so interesting and unique and different. If I go do Phantom of the Opera, say now. I’m going to be a completely different phantom, not who’s playing it now, just because of my own sensibilities are different than… No matter. Even if I tried to copy somebody else, there’s no way I could because I don’t have those sensibilities. I try my best to put my own self into that role.

Steve Cuden: Nor should you copy somebody else’s performance. I mean, obviously you have to perform it the way that you perform it.

Robert Cuccioli: Right.

Steve Cuden: Do you take a script? Do you do any kind of a breakdown? I mean, actors famously do breakdowns, beat breakdowns, and all kinds of different breakdowns. Is that something that you do? Do you start looking for specific things in a script?

Robert Cuccioli: We go back now to training because I have had to develop my own way of doing things. Because I didn’t come from a strict training, so to speak, though, I had training afterwards. I don’t have a set way of doing anything. I work very instinctually. But I do go through the script. I go through whether it’s an audition scene or something like that, and I will find the beat changes. First of all, what’s going on in the scene, what’s the scene about, what do I want out of this, and also where does it keep changing? Where am I surprised? So I look for all those types of things.

Steve Cuden: You are saying all the things that most actors go through training to learn, which is there’s an objective in the scene. What do you want, how do you get there, what’s in your way and how do you overcome it?

Robert Cuccioli: Exactly.

Steve Cuden: Right. I mean, that by the way, is the essence of—

Robert Cuccioli: It’s that simple and it’s that difficult.

Steve Cuden: Yeah, sure. Exactly. That’s the essence of good drama. All good drama is what does a character want? What are the objectives in the scene? What are the obstacles in the way? And how do you overcome them? That’s the essence of all great drama.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: What I was hoping you would say is that you’re actively looking for those things that you can then use as your motivations within the scene.

Robert Cuccioli: Yes. Exactly.

Steve Cuden: Do you have any particular special performance preparations that you go through? You’ve now rehearsed. You’ve been through that process. You’re about to do performance. Do you do anything prior to a show? Do you have exercise rituals? Vocal warmup? What do you do?

Robert Cuccioli: I warm up my voice every… Well, I sing every day. One way or another, I do vocal exercises, or I sing or something. But when I’m doing an actual performance, I do warm up my voice at home. Because the vocal exercises are too annoying to do them public. I do them at home. I do physical stretches. I’m usually one of the first people at the theater. I like to get there early. I like the ritual of it. I like to be in a quiet space before the activity begins. So I like to stretch and get my body warmed up. Other than that, I get dressed in a way that I feel the character is getting dressed. I mean, I just slowly try to get into the head space of where I need to be. I don’t normally like to joke around and party or something like that before a performance. If I’m in a crowded dressing room or so, I’m usually kind of quiet just to kind of stay in the focus of it.

Steve Cuden: Olivier said that once he had the shoes and the coat and whatever the hair is, he kind of knew he was getting into that role. That he needed that from the external in. You’re saying something similar that once you start to get into costume, put your makeup on and so on, that’s bringing you into the role.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah, exactly.

Steve Cuden: So it’s not a, you’re not going through sense memory or any of those kinds of things?

Robert Cuccioli: No, I don’t know anything about it. I’ve always been trained that way. Once I’m all prepared and I’m all set, I sit quietly for a while, and I think of how this play is going to begin and where I am emotionally before the play begins. Then it’s about getting on the train.

Steve Cuden: Alright. So once you’re on the train and now you’re in a run. You’re well into a run of a show. Are you still looking for new things as you’re performing?

Robert Cuccioli: I sometimes do consciously, but more often than not, I try to just be moment to moment and allow for something different to happen to me. I stay open to my fellow performers and allow them to affect me in a different way.

Steve Cuden: You must be a very, very good listener.

Robert Cuccioli: I am a very good listener. I have to say that I do listen very well to other actors.

Steve Cuden: You couldn’t do what you just described a moment ago without being a very good listener. You can’t pick up on what the differences are from night to night on another actor’s performance. You’re living for what they’re saying.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. That’s one of the disadvantages of living from an objective standpoint because you’re always trying to do something to the other person, which is useful. It’s a very useful tool, but you also need to be in the moment and be spontaneous and allow things to be fresh and listen and respond. It’s very meister. I come from more of a meister background than anything else.

Steve Cuden: You are living in the part for what’s happening now, not what you’re blocked to do, but you’re living for that moment.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: I think that that’s important to understand. You must be a very good memorizer of lines. You’ve learned a lot of lines in a lot of different kinds of ways. Do you have a tip or a trick for memorization?

Robert Cuccioli: It’s a muscle. It’s like going to the gym every day. You develop a muscle to memorize, but it’s not an easy task. I wish I had a photographic memory. I wish I could just look at a page and it would be in my head. But I have to beat it into me. I have to go through the lines over and over and over and over again. There are a number of techniques that have come to my attention, and I’ve toyed with them. I can’t say that they’re better or not. Some people will write down… Sometimes I find it useful to physically write out my lines so that the physicality of the handwriting, the words I’m forming… the words end up staying in my brain a little more.

I’ve used that. Some people have tried the technique of writing down the first letter of every word in their line so that the letter is in your head. It associates to the word, I guess. I haven’t found that useful for me. I remember also Bill and I, he has a very interesting technique that I’ve tried. That is say every line, I think he says 16 times, and then connect it to the previous line, and then go through that line by line. It’s a long, tedious process. I just beat it into my head. It’s repetition. Repetition.

Steve Cuden: It’s brute force.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. Pretty much.

Steve Cuden: One of the things that I’ve taught my students for a long time, and it’s a mystery as to why it works, and you’ve already said it. Which is, I say, when you’re taking notes, if you take notes by typing them into a computer or onto your phone, you won’t remember what the notes were. But if you write them down the physical act of somehow between the hand and the brain it puts it into record mode in your head for some reason.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. That’s why many actors will probably say this because this is something I believe. That the best way to memorize your lines is to associate them with blocking so that there’s a physicality connected to the word. Shakespeare says it. The action to the word, the word to the action. I find that if people ask me to come first day of rehearsal, completely off book, it’s impossible. I will do preliminary work on it. The idea is pretty much in my head, but the lines don’t really get into me until I connect them to my body.

Steve Cuden: That makes a lot of sense. The lines are connected to some form of activity. Physical activity. It’s not just words. I think that makes a whole lot of sense. You’ve worked for many different directors over the years. What would you say are one or more important lessons you’ve taken away from the better directors you’ve worked with?

Robert Cuccioli: Good question. Well, because I never went to school for this, I always feel like I’m in learning mode and I always feel like I have something that I need to work on always. Some of the best directors treated me as a colleague more and relied on me to collaborate with them, which forced me to show up even more. If you get a director that says, okay this is how we’re going to do it, this is what I want you to do, and this is what you’re feeling in this moment. I’ll shut down because it just doesn’t allow me to create and to work, to show up at a higher level. Those directors that expect more of me are the ones that I learned the most from.

Steve Cuden: You learned more from what they were expecting you to do, rather than from them telling you something.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. That’s part of trusting oneself. This is a little bit off the topic to some extent. But the first time I was asked to direct, I was terrified, which is why I said yes. Which goes back to if something scares you it’s something you need to do. The one thing that a friend of mine told me in my deciding on this part I was doing was that he said, you know more than you think you know. I’m like, yeah. You’re right. I think that says something about where I am in my whole career all along.

Steve Cuden: Well, sure.

Robert Cuccioli: I know more than I think I know, so I have to trust myself a little bit.

Steve Cuden: What do you think you’ve learned as a director that’s helped you as an actor?

Robert Cuccioli: The one thing that I’ve had to do as a director, because I am such an instinctual actor, I don’t put what I need to do into words so much. They’re mostly feelings. Emotional connections. But when I’m directing, I have to tell another actor what I’m thinking, how to direct them and to talk to them like an actor so that they will understand what I’m trying to communicate. That has made me a better actor because I’ve had to put into words what I’m working on, what I’m doing in a scene. So that’s made me a better actor.

Steve Cuden: You have to sort of codify what you’re doing as an actor, instinctually, you now have to actually form a way to do that.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. I have to put it into words because they can’t read my brain. I’ve got to tell them what I’m thinking and how to communicate in ways that they will understand.

Steve Cuden: If only actors were telepathic, it would be easier.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: Is there anything that you think you do now differently in working with directors that you didn’t do early on, that you’ve learned over time that this is a better way to work? Let’s say, a director’s giving you a note that you don’t understand or how to work with it. How do you handle that now? Is it different than when you first started out?

Robert Cuccioli: Yes. I think that my ego probably got in the way more when I was younger, and I may have reacted the wrong way as a criticism, as opposed to as being criticized, as opposed to a positive kind of note to get.

Steve Cuden: You had more of an emotional reaction than an intellectual reaction.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. I think what I’ve learned over the years is that if I’m getting a direction that I may not fully agree with, I will do it anyway. I will usually do it three times. After the third time, if it still does not ring true to me, it will be at that point that I will go to the director and say, this is not working. I’d like to go back to what I was originally thinking of doing. I think directors, they respect that more because you gave it a shot. You gave it your best shot. You tried it a number of times. Then after that, it was like, can I just try it the way I was thinking? They usually say, yeah, go ahead.

Steve Cuden: My assumption is early on in your career you didn’t do it that way.

Robert Cuccioli: No. I probably would’ve argued or something like that. Or have done it begrudgingly and been upset about it. But I never have gone back and said, hey, can I, can I try and do it my way now? So I’ve learned. I’ve grown.

Steve Cuden: Well, you should. It wouldn’t be much fun if you weren’t, I would think. So I just want to briefly talk about the difference between stage work, which you’ve done the most of, and working on a set with a camera. The obvious big differences are the stage is big and outward, and the camera work is a little smaller and more intimate. But are there other differences for you in the way that you approach, the difference between stage work and camera work?

Robert Cuccioli: Well, camera work is very difficult in that you will shoot out of sequence. When you do a play or a musical, you start at the beginning, and you go through to the end. When you’re doing TV work or a film, you can start in the middle. Or they may shoot the last scene first for whatever reason they want to do that. You have to be so in it. I think that’s why you hear about a lot of these movie stars that they get crazed that way because they’re so in the character, because they have to be. Because they’ve got to shoot so out of sequence that they’ve got to be so in it to work that way. So I hear all these stories and I’m like, well, I totally understand that. I mean, it makes sense to me. So, yeah, there’s a big difference that way. Also, you don’t get a whole lot of rehearsal when you’re doing TV or film.

Steve Cuden: If any.

Robert Cuccioli: If any. I mean, especially if you’re doing a guest spot on something, you have to come in, lines memorized, you’ll have an initial blocking rehearsal, That’s it. The camera goes on, and then you’ve got to perform. It’s not easy.

Steve Cuden: My assumption from your saying that is, you prefer stage work to camera work. Yes?

Robert Cuccioli: In a way, yeah. I do. But I’m also more used to it. So I can’t say too much. I mean the one beautiful thing about the one… There are a number of things. But one of the beautiful things about film and TV work is that you can get so intimate. You can get so internal. It’s all about what your thoughts are.

Steve Cuden: Well, the audience in a theater has a hard time seeing into you, but the camera sees right through you.

Robert Cuccioli: Yes. The camera does a lot of the work for you. I mean, you may work with another actor on a TV show or something, and as a theater performer, I will look at them and I’m like, you’re not doing anything. You’re not doing a thing. But I see the end result, and I’m like, oh my God. It’s just like what I thought you were not doing has translated into a brilliant performance. So it’s really fascinating.

Steve Cuden: So famously, Gary Cooper, one of the great Hollywood stars of all time, he was so underplayed that people would be on a set and they’d say he isn’t doing a thing. Then they’d get back in the screening room and it was all right there.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. But you also notice that in most of his films, the camera is right… It’s all about his eyes.

Steve Cuden: His eyes.

Robert Cuccioli: It’s right in his face. If you see High Noon, all the camera is right in his eyes the entire time. It’s amazing.

Steve Cuden: That is an extraordinarily wonderful movie.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. It is.

Steve Cuden: It’s an exceptional movie. So I’ve been speaking to Rob Cuccioli for coming up on an hour almost. We’re going to sort of wind this thing down a little bit. I’m just curious, in all of your many experiences, can you share with us a story that is either weird, quirky, oddball, strange, or just plain funny that’s happened to you?

Robert Cuccioli: Oh, God. There have been so many things. It’s hard to pinpoint one big one. Whether they’re ghost stories or fighting June bugs on stage at Wolf Trap.

Steve Cuden: Tell us a ghost story. I want to hear a ghost story. I love ghost stories.

Robert Cuccioli: Well, I got two actually.

Steve Cuden: Great.

Robert Cuccioli: One is I was doing a play called A Moon to Dance By with Jane Alexander and Gareth Sacks. We were at Pittsburgh Playhouse. I don’t know if you know this or not. It is listed as the most haunted theater in North America.

Steve Cuden: The Pittsburgh Playhouse is now in a new facility in downtown Pittsburgh. It’s no longer in existence.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. No, the old one.

Steve Cuden: Yes, I know the old one is haunted. Yes.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah, it’s listed as the most haunted theater in, I think, North America.

Steve Cuden: Wow. Okay.

Robert Cuccioli: So we were there to do A Moon to Dance By. We were rehearsing in the basement, and there was nobody else around. We took a five-minute break, or a 10-minute break or something like that. When we came back, Jane said, I just had my butt pinched at the water cooler. We’re like, what? She said, yeah, I just had my butt pinched while I was at the water fountain. I turned around and there was nobody there. So I’m like, okay, that was funny. Nothing happened to me. But that was funny. But what did happen to me once when I was working up at Good Speed in Connecticut. Right now, they have this lovely complex of actor housing. It’s all brand-new stuff there.

But back in the old days, the actors were put up in these mansions. These old Cape Cod houses. They’re huge beautiful old houses. I was in one of them called the Lawton House. This was a time when you had cassette tapes. I mean, this was back in the eighties and things like that. I had a bunch of cassette tapes, and they were in cases, and I had them stacked in my room. I left to go to rehearsal. I locked my door, and I went out and went to rehearsal. When I came back after rehearsal, I unlocked my door, I walked in, and the cassette tapes were strewn all over the room. Under the bed. All over the room.

Steve Cuden: That’s weird.

Robert Cuccioli: That’s weird. The next morning I went into the bathroom and my razor—it’s a one of those Gillette safety razor things with a cartridge that you click in and whatever. Right. I had used it the day before. The cartridge was connected to the razor where it would normally be. When I picked it up to shave, the cartridge was reversed so that when you shaved, the blades were going the opposite direction. So in essence, you wouldn’t shave yourself because the blades were going the wrong way. There was no explanation for any of this stuff. Obviously, some spirit did not like the music I was playing and thought that I should grow a beard. So I don’t know what happened, but that was a weird event.

Steve Cuden: It just proves that everyone’s a critic.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah, exactly. Of something.

Steve Cuden: Sorry, last question for you today. You’ve already given us an enormous amount of advice and help along the way here. But I’m wondering if you have a solid piece of advice or a tip that you give to others about how to help them get into the industry, or if they’re in a little bit, maybe get to that next level.

Robert Cuccioli: First of all, the climate now is so hard to read. Where is this business going? How do you prepare for anything? You have no idea what the future holds. I mean, theater is limping back. Broadway’s reopening and everything, but how long is it going to last? How long is it going to last? When is the next shoe going to drop? So to give anybody kind of advice right now is tough. I mean, I rely on what we talked about earlier about what our job is as actors and how to keep improving and how to keep learning and keep knowing yourself more and keep trying to understand human nature and staying alert and staying awake. Staying present. Living in the now. I don’t want to get all woo-woo and everything, but that’s a very real thing.

Steve Cuden: That’s real.

Robert Cuccioli: That also goes with where we are today. I mean, an actor needs to be flexible. You need to be able to go with the flow. You need to be able to ride a wave. You need to be able to adapt to whatever is thrown at you, whether that’s on stage or whether that’s in life. I think that’s the best advice I can give right now.

Steve Cuden: I think that that’s very sound and solid advice. Right now, we’re having this conversation sort of almost two years into the Covid pandemic. You’re correct. Things are sort of sputtering back to life, but we don’t know what’s going to happen next. The theater is among the first things that get tossed out.

Robert Cuccioli: We’re not government funded like other countries. I mean, the theater is a commercial enterprise for the most part.

Steve Cuden: Unfortunately this particular disease is not good with people packed into a crowded space together. So that really prohibits theatrical things from happening.

Robert Cuccioli: Yeah. I mean, that’s why film and TV are able to at least do a little bit better because they are more insulated.

Steve Cuden: Sure.

Robert Cuccioli: They don’t have to deal with an audience.

Steve Cuden: That’s exactly right. They’re able to sort of function where the theater cannot, or dance, or symphony or whatever it would be. Robert Cuccioli, this has been an absolutely wonderful hour. I can’t thank you enough for coming on the show and being here.

Robert Cuccioli: It was my pleasure.

Steve Cuden: So we’ve come to the end of today’s StoryBeat. If you like this episode, won’t you please take a moment to give us a comment, rating, or review on whatever app or platform you are listening to. Your support helps us bring more great StoryBeat episodes to you. StoryBeat is available on all major podcast apps and platforms, including Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, Tune In, and many others. Until next time, I’m Steve Cuden. May all your stories be unforgettable.


Executive Producer: Steve Cuden, Producer: Casey Georgi, Announcer: Javier Grajeda
Social Media: Mina Hoffman, Design & Marketing: Holly Reed, Reed Creative Group


  1. Carol Giorgio

    A long time friend of Robert’s, I started out with him in community theater in all my Sons. Also saw him on the road tour Jekyll and Hyde before it reached Broadway and have the music from there which is different from the Broadway version very interesting to see the changes that we made. Thank you so much for featuring him as he is so deserving

    • CAROL Giorgio

      were not we

    • Steve Cuden

      Thanks for listening, Carol! We could not agree more! Bob deserves all the kudos he can get!

  2. Tracey J. Vela

    saw Robert in Spider-man with my family he was awesome, he is so talented so proud. He has the most amazing voice. So honored to call him my cousin.

    • Steve Cuden

      Thanks so much for listening, Tracey!

  3. Pat Tortorella

    It has been a long time since I first saw you in Jekyll and Hyde. I was very fortunate to be an extra one night. That will be a memory to remember. And then the fun being involved with the auction for the next person to be there. I still can’t get over that you called be up to the stage snd and I got the bid to $10,000. What fun! It has always been great to see you on Broadway and N.J. You’ve made many people happy!


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