Wilmington’s vast array of theatrical talent spreads far and wide. A bevy of creative dancers, singers and actors take on over 100 productions annually, shown on stages from Thalian’s magical 500-seat theatre, to more intimate venues, like the 50-seat Cape Fear Playhouse. Recently, local theatre companies have been sourcing alternative venues to host shows that mimic the fun of a space they’re performing in—such as C’est La Guerre who produced “Bukowsical” at Front Street Brewery’s Beam Room or Thalian Association’s “Mr. Roberts” at the Battleship NC. This weekend the trend continues as local nonprofit Second Star Theatre Company will host “Miscast Cabaret” in Ronald Sachs Violins on Castle Street.
“I wanted to take the performers out of their element,” director LaRaisha Dionne says. “Oftentimes, when we see them on stages they normally perform on, and we recall roles they’ve done in the past. I want to strip that away and perhaps see them in a new light.”
Dionne has cast them in roles they normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to play—swapping genders in some and tossing out the idea of typecasting altogether. For instance, from the show “Chicago,” an all-male rendition of “Cell Block Tango” will come to life. The King of England from “Hamilton” will be played by Kendra Geohring-Garrett, and Maria Chandler will bend and snap it as Elle Woods from “Legally Blond.” “I am personally so excited to see Maria’s take,” Dionne says.
Dionne also cast Terrill Williams as the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, and John-Paul Coffman as the Good Witch, Glinda, from “Wicked.” Dionne’s husband, Christian, will sing “She Used To Be Mine” from “Waitress,” while Lance Howell takes on “Maybe This Time” from the famed “Cabaret.”
“We are doing ‘Miscast Cabaret’ because we did a teen version and the adults in town said they’d love to do it,” Dionne tells. She held auditions and was blown away by the turnout. Much of it was from the help of local choreographer and founder of Techmoja Dance Company, Kevin Lee-y Green.
“He had the brilliant, albeit daunting idea to ask some of the big performers to join in,” Dionne says. “I drafted a note and sent it to all of my mentors, directors, leaders in the community, and I was shocked at the amazingly positive response.”
Dionne has staged the show minimally, in order to focus on the story of each song. She modeled the layout of the venue after places in NYC, the Duplex or Don’t Tell Mama’s. “Catching some of my favorite Broadway performers after hours was the highlight of my time as an actress in NYC,” she praises. “I want to recreate an intimate and special feel.”
Green helped choreograph the big number, “Cell Block Tango,” which Dionne assures will be a fierce reminder of how deep the talent in Wilmington reaches. Just as well, Denice Hopper will lead the helm in music, which will find a welcoming sound in the acoustics of the shop.
“It is not like directing a full-length production,” Dionne explains of “Miscast.” “The difficulty is having limited rehearsal, but the talent is out of this world, so I am confident from the rehearsals we’ve had so far.”
As long as the performers and audience walk away feeling enlivened, Dionne will be happy. Even better will be continuing the show year after year, as proceeds benefit Second Star Theatre Company. The company started two years ago from a group of community artists, allies, and supporters, with a mission to create all-inclusive performing arts programming and arts educational opportunities for youth. To date they’ve hosted numerous shows, like “Cry Baby” and “FAME,” produced and acted by teens, as well as a few adult shows, like “The Last Five Years” and “Murder Ballad.” They have hosted camps each summer for kids who want to explore and grow within the performing arts. Proceeds from “Miscast Cabaret” will help defray costs to continue hosting the camps.
“The summer camps are a partnership with CFCC’s Community Enrichment program,” explains Dionne, who also works for CFCC’s Wilson Center. “They offer a variety of summer camps in different areas, and they wanted to do a theatre camp that would utilize the Wilson Center performance hall.”
Though camps aren’t free of charge, Second Star does offer a scholarship program to campers who have financial-aid needs. They always welcome businesses who wish to sponsor as well. (Potential campers and sponsors can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.)
Dionne knows firsthand the positive empowerment and reinforcement that comes from living a life immersed in the arts. “I started doing theatre with a company called the ‘Ark’ in Long Beach, CA, as an afterschool program,” she remembers. “They did music, visual art, and theater arts. Not having a lot of money growing up, the Ark saved me from a life that could look very different from what it is now. I struggled a lot in my 20s to find my place and my voice. Wilmington theatre has embraced me as one of their own and gave me my life back.”
The Second Star board and Dionne—who serves as secretary—hope to offer the same hope and opportunities to others. The focus is to remain all-inclusive, no matter the background, ethnicity, gender, religion, race, etc. “We deserve a place at the table and not a ‘sometimes’ place when people need to fill a diversity quota,” Dionne tells. “We deserve an equal place at the table.”