Carl Pariso is bracing for an extra dose of opening night jitters tonight when the touring production of “Cabaret” comes to The Playhouse on Rodney Square in Wilmington. Pariso, who plays Clifford Bradshaw, expects many of his former professors from the University of Delaware’s music and theater departments to be in the house and he’s eager to show them what he’s accomplished since graduating in 2015.
“I’m definitely excited but also a little nervous just because a lot of my mentors—people who knew me from my beginnings—will be there,” said the 24-year-old from Sussex County, New Jersey. “I do have such a supportive community there still but I want them to see that I’ve grown”
“Cabaret” opened on Broadway in 1966. Set in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, it is based on John Van Druten’s 1951 play “I Am a Camera” which was adapted from the 1939 novel “Goodbye to Berlin” by Christopher Isherwood. It focuses on the seedy Kit Kat Klub and revolves around Bradshaw, a young American writer who comes to Berlin to work on his novel, and his relationship with English cabaret singer Sally Bowles.
“It’s such a cool arc that Cliff has,” said Pariso by phone from Utica, New York. “You get to see pre-Nazi Berlin through his eyes. He starts out as this innocent guy and in a way kind of finds himself through a lot of drama and high stakes.”
Pariso feels fortunate to have landed such a plum role for his first national tour but admits he didn’t have a love-at-first-sight attraction to Cabaret. His first experience with the iconic musical came in high school when a teacher in an American Studies class played “Willkommen” to support a lecture on the Weimar Republic. Problem was he failed to put the clip into context and that left Pariso clueless.
“When you see Joel Grey in white face singing ‘Willkommen,’ it’s a little shocking and confusing, and I kind of wrote it off as something that didn’t make much sense,” he said.
Pariso’s second encounter at UD was much more enlightening. “We were studying anthems in a music history class and how Hitler used old German folk songs to organize the Nazi party,” he said. “As an example, the professor played ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’ which closes Act I. It’s such a beautiful innocent melody used for such a dark and sinister organization and I thought that was interesting as a compositional technique.”
Pariso prepped for the role by reading Van Druten’s play and Isherwood’s novel and by watching a production on YouTube but says he still remained relatively unfamiliar with the part going into rehearsal. That, he says, was an advantage.
“You have to have an open mind so as not to limit yourself to a certain way to play the character,” he said. “It was great to go into rehearsal like a sponge and absorb as much information as possible.”
Pariso started performing at a young age and went on to write songs for rock bands while in high school. He developed a passion for musical theatre and wanted to compose for that genre. A college professor suggested he get involved in the medium to gain a better understanding of it and his career took on a whole new direction.
“I started performing and fell in love with it,” he said. “I still compose but now I err on the side of performing.”
Pariso has performed at UD and at theatres in Maryland and New Hampshire starring in roles like Boo Radley in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Bobby Strong in “Urinetown,” King Arthur in “Camelot” and Matt in “The Fantasticks.” He has also won awards for composition and vocal performance.
Pariso says that while he definitely wants to pursue a career in musical theatre, he would like to get more involved with straight plays. “In straight plays you really are stripped down to your core; you don’t have music or dancing to hide behind or redeem yourself,” he said. “It’s a great challenge and a great medium to grow in. It makes you as vulnerable as you can be.”
“Cabaret” runs March 13-18 at The Playhouse on Rodney Square in Wilmington. For more information and to purchase tickets: www.thegrandwilmington.org