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Oregon Cabaret Theatre gears up for 2019

The Oregon Cabaret’s 2019 season promises plenty of outstanding theater, with “Beehive, the ’60s Musical,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Sweeney Todd,” a new Sherlock Holmes show and “Miracle on 34th Street.” With a lineup like this one, it’s clear that Managing Director Rick Robinson and Artistic Director Valerie Rachelle will bring some of the best theater in Ashland to the old church stage in its 34th year.

Robinson calls their 2019 season epic. Why?

“It’s bigger, for one, because of the number of locations, depth of characters, raw number of actors we’re using, the technical requirements,” he says. “It’s a boundary-pushing season for us.”

The Oregon Cabaret Theatre opens the 2019 season on Thursday, Jan. 31, with “Beehive, the ’60s Musical,” a show sure to please with those wonderfully happy bebop songs such as “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “Be My Baby,” “Son of a Preacher Man” and “The Name Game.” It’s a show of female empowerment with a cast of six women, directed by Lauren Blair.

Rachelle, Robinson and Galloway Stevens, associate artistic director, began to develop the 2019 lineup more than a year ago.

“Every year we put out a survey of 15 shows that we’re looking at, and we ask our local audience to vote for five of them,” Rachelle says. “We tally the results and see what people are interested in seeing, if there’s something new out that we want to get our hands on, if there’s something exciting that it’s time to do. It just depends.”

“We want to tell different stories,” Robinson notes. “We always aim to provide a different experience each time they come to the theater so a subscription is a really a passport to theater.”

“Mamma Mia!” is the Cabaret’s biggest show of the season and one of the largest casts the theater has worked with. As a blockbuster film property and popular Broadway production embedded with ABBA tunes, “Mamma Mia!” also is one of the most expensive shows the Cabaret will run. Rachelle says she had 500 young women apply for the role of Sophie.

Audiences were blown away by Matt Koenig as Holmes and Galen Schloming as Watson in the Cabaret’s 2017 production of “Baskerville.” The detective duo’s nonstop physical acting, extreme athleticism and exaggerated Victorian demeanor were thoroughly enjoyable. They’ll be back in the Cabaret’s 2019 premiere of “Sherlock Holmes and the Sign of Four,” adapted and directed by Robinson.

“Sweeney Todd” will be perhaps a darker play than usual at the Cabaret. Set designer Craig Hudson will transform the narrow, tall stage into a steampunk dream, gears and machines joining the barber upstairs, and downstairs the pie shop.

And for a fully authentic, immersive experience: “We’re going to have pies on the menu,” Robinson says, with a chortle. “Having an authentic meat pie with gravy while watching Sweeney Todd — it’s just irresistible.”

Nine one-night shows are scheduled for 2019, featuring a mix of local and traveling talent that includes the Rogue Suspects, the Hamazons, The Brothers Reed, Pacifica 101, “Feelin’ Groovy” with Kristen Calvin, Robbie Dacosta and Tom Stamper, as well as Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” with Merideth Kaye Clark, “Define: Unconditional — Adventures in BECAUSE I SAID SO!” with Keaton Talmadge, and “Together Again, for the First Time,” with Emily Fisher and Heather Lundstedt.

“The Rocky Horror Show” was in the 2018 season for the third year running and tickets sold well. But so far the cult production isn’t in the 2019 lineup. Robinson and Rachelle are keeping their options open to audience demand for a fourth season return.

Big news for 2019 is that the Oregon Cabaret Theatre is moving into the first of a three-year transition to becoming an Equity theater company with associated standards for salaries, benefits and working conditions.

“We’re already professional because we pay everyone,” Rachelle says, “but it will make it easier for us to get union talent.”

For more information about the 2019 OCT season or for tickets, call the box office at 541-488-2902 or see oregoncabaret.com. The theatre is at the corner of First and Hargadine streets.

Maureen Flanagan Battistella is a freelance writer in Ashland. She can be reached at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

A scene from Oregon Cabaret's 2018 production of "Once." Photo by Bryon DeVore