Curtain rises on ‘Moon Over Buffalo’
By Julia Sommer for Ashland.news
The 2022 Oregon Cabaret Theatre season launches Wednesday, Feb. 10, with “Moon Over Buffalo” by Ken Ludwig, “a big, fun comedy, a theater farce about theater people, hilarious,” as Cabaret Managing Director Rick Robinson describes it.
His wife and partner, Cabaret Artistic Director Valerie Rachelle, has cast two New York equity actors in the lead roles, Brik Berkes and Laurie Dawn. Local favorites Livia Genise, Sierra Wells, August Gabriel and Samuel Wick round out the cast.
It hasn’t been easy staying afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. At one point, government mandate kept Cabaret houses at 25% capacity. It has chosen to remain at less than full capacity by not table-sharing.
Tickets for “Moon” are selling briskly. Audiences must be masked and vaccinated, as must cast, crew, and staff. (Patrons may pull down masks for the excellent dining and full bar on offer, with famous desserts emerging at intermission.)
Robinson has been busy lining up funding during COVID-19 shut-downs and restrictions. The federal Payroll Protection Act met payroll until July 3; a federal Shuttered Venue grant just ended. Now it’s up to ticket sales. Cabaret is a for-profit company, so donations are not solicited, but Rachelle, smiling, says she wouldn’t turn down a $1 million gift.
Cabaret’s contract with the Actors Equity union calls for a minimum of two equity actors and one equity stage manager per show. Rachelle does annual casting calls in New York, L.A., and locally to find the best and to keep the shows fresh. She also uses video and Zoom.
Cast members from out of town are provided with housing and travel costs. Actors Equity currently requires Cabaret casts be tested three times a week for COVID-19, based on the high infection rate in Jackson County. Cabaret has not had a single case of COVID-19 among casts and crews. Early rehearsals were masked.
Amazingly, both Rachelle and Robinson work elsewhere, taking turns holding down the fort in Ashland and supervising their daughter, a freshman sports enthusiast at Ashland High School.
Rachelle has just finished directing and choreographing Eugene Opera’s “Magic Flute” at the Hult Center. Her next contract is with the University of Utah, directing “9 to 5” for its theater program. And then she’s off to Utah Festival Opera in May to direct and choreograph “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” and“Carmen.”
Robinson has directed, written, and adapted scripts for Cabaret, including the third Sherlock Holmes mystery opening Sept. 15.He has also directed four shows at the Collaborative Theatre Project in Medford. Eight of his plays have been produced in Los Angeles.
How does Cabaret pick which shows it will do? “It’s like a Venn diagram,” says Robinson — “what the audience wants to see, and what we want to make.”
Along with Associate Artistic Director, frequent Cabaret actor, and “Moon” director Galloway Stevens, Rachelle and Robinson initially pick about 60 shows, then narrow them down to a semi-final pool of 20.
Following “Moon,” “In the Heights” opens April 21, “The Full Monty” June 30, “Sherlock” Sept. 15, “Christmas Carol” Nov. 18, and “White Christmas” Dec. 1. “White Christmas” will play at OSF’s Thomas Theatre, with the two Christmas shows running concurrently the whole month of December.
After living in Los Angeles/Southern California for 21 years, Robinson and Rachelle took over the Cabaret in 2014 after the death of their friend and Cabaret founder Jim Giancarlo. “We were handed a 30-year history,” says Valerie. “We want every show to be better than the last. We care a lot, we love this community.”
Email freelance writer Julia Sommer of Ashland at firstname.lastname@example.org.