Ken Page, Broadway Barbara, Others Come to Coachella Valley

The Summer Cabaret Series at CVRep features your favorite Broadway stars May 15–July 25.

May 13, 2024
Story by Aleesha Lange
Philip Chaffin, Broadway Barbara, and Ken Page.
PHOTO COURTESY COACHELLA VALLEY REPERTORY

Curtains closed on Coachella Valley Repertory’s finale of Nice Work If You Can Get It on April 28, giving rise to a well-deserved sense of accomplishment backstage. For some, however, the feeling was short-lived. It would soon be time to set the stage for the Summer Cabaret Series.

Coachella Valley Repertory (CVRep) opened its doors in 2018, 10 years after founding board members Ron Celona and Gary D. Hall came together to create an Equity theater in Cathedral City, providing comprehensive benefits to actors and stage managers in alignment with the Actors’ Equity Association. It quickly grabbed the attention of local actors and touring acts, drawing in a robust lineup right away with productions of Good People, Chess, White, and How I Learned to Drive comprising its first season.

Named executive artistic director of CVRep in 2022, Adam Karsten brings a history of successful endeavors with him. “I had 20-plus years of my career in New York City,” he says. “I went to Carnegie Mellon Performing Arts for dramatic arts and theater arts, and then went to New York to pursue the career. Eventually, I transitioned into producing and directing.” Highlights from his previous role include working with Live from Lincoln Center and creating his own production company, A2K Productions, independently producing film, television, and theater projects around the country.

Karsten’s past allows him to bring new programming to the Coachella Valley, like the Summer Cabaret Series, launched in 2023 and featuring the likes of Broadway talent Lisa Vroman and Christiane Noll as well as West End favorite Mark Evans and actor Alan H. Green.

This year’s lineup certainly stands up to the previous roster. “The quality of artists that we’re bringing out, they’re just outstanding,” Karsten says. “There’s lots of Broadway veterans including Melissa Errico, Alysha Umphress, Leslie Tinnaro, and then, of course, Ken Page who’s just a star in his own right for so many reasons.” The series begins May 15 with Maximo Marcuso, an international opera sensation with a taste for classical music and Broadway favorites — a repeat performer from the first Summer Cabaret Series.

It takes coordination and preparation to nail down a star-studded cast such as this one. Karsten reaches out to actors for their availability, asking them if they can work it into their schedule. “We talk to them about what we’re doing here at CVRep and if they want to be part of the program,” he says. If actors need additional persuasion, Karsten’s team shares the confirmed participants and witnesses a “pretty quick change” in confirmation. “They [suddenly] seem excited to do so, even though it will be 110 degrees when they may be here,” Karsten says with a laugh.

Despite the heat, other theaters are stretching their schedules into the summer months as well. McCallum Theatre has shows through June with appearances by up-and-coming jazz star Samara Joy and comedy legend Wanda Sykes. “If we’re talking economics, there’s demand,” says Karsten, sharing that, in its first year, the series sold out multiple shows. “That’s a good indication that there is an audience here over the summer.”

The Summer Cabaret Series upholds CVRep’s mission to provide innovative, thought-provoking theater through its cast and their diverse talents. Broadway Barbara, the stage personality of Leah Sprecher, performs July 11. “There’s singing, dancing, stories, a few laughs, a few tears, a few loose tap shoes flying into the audience,” she shares, in character. With more than 500,000 followers across Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, Broadway Barbara’s production promises a “single tour de force performance,” she says, detailing the modern history of Broadway and a distillation of her life’s story. “I would love my fans to take away two things from my show. One: a belief in the restorative power of the arts. And two: as much merchandise as they can possibly buy.”

Three-time Grammy nominee Philip Chaffin, who joins the series June 26, developed a one-man show based on his 2018 album, Will He Like Me?, for CVRep’s audience. He recounts asking composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim to rewrite lines, swapping the gendered lyrics in songs like “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe,” “When I Marry Mr. Snow,” “I Got Lost in His Arms.” Sondheim responded via email with reworked lyrics but advised that “it is 2013, and you can just sing the lyrics that are written.” With a new outlook on the album, Chaffin developed what he affectionately called “a gay man’s love story,” choosing not to change the lyrics.

“When Sondheim says, ‘Just sing the lyrics,’ you just sing the lyrics,” Chaffin enthuses. “I picked a bunch of songs that I liked that were written for women, and just thought, ‘Let’s not change the pronouns.’”

Coming to Greater Palm Springs is exciting for these stars. Ken Page, best known as the voice actor for Oogie Boogie in The Nightmare Before Christmas and his role as Old Deuteronomy in the original Broadway production of Cats, recently performed at Purple Room Palm Springs and hopes to bring a new version of his concert to the desert. “I’m always excited to do my own show because it is my own show,” Page says. “It will be a nice representation of what I’ve done and who I am now, which is probably more important.” Page began his career in the ’70s, quickly finding success on Broadway.

This region has long been a magnet for Hollywood stars, and that continues as programming such as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival bring in the next generation of talent such as Billie Eilish, Tyler the Creator, and Harry Styles.

To have such a talented lineup at CVRep stokes community in the summertime. “It really provides a place for people to go and socialize in the summer,” Karsten says. “I think that’s part of our mission and part of our purpose and our objective within the community and our responsibility as a performing arts venue.”

The Summer Cabaret Series opens with Maximo Marcuso on May 15 and is followed by Faith Prince (May 16), Broadway Showstoppers with Glenn Rosenblum (May 22, June 12, July 17), Edmund Bagnell (May 23), Melissa Errico (June 5–6), Alysha Umphress (June 13), Leslie Tinnaro (June 19), Jason Graae (June 20), Philip Chaffin (June 26), Ken Page (June 27), Deven Green & Handsome Ned (July 10), Broadway Barbara (July 11), Brent Barrett and Bernie Blanks (July 18), Julie and Jana Cardia (July 24), and culminates July 25 with David Burnham.