A Sit-Down with Cabaret Star Carl Pariso

Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald

Carl Pariso is an actor/singer/musician based in New York City who began performing at a young age, playing and writing songs for rock bands. He graduated from the University of Delaware in 2015 with degrees in Music Composition and Theatre Performance. During college, he wrote music, performed, and developed a passion for theater, starring in roles like Bobby Strong in Urinetown, Matt in The Fantasticks, Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird and King Arthur in Camelot. He also sang with the UD Chorale, and performed and arranged music for a cappella groups, barbershop quartets and big bands. Pariso stars as Clifford Bradshaw in the touring company of Cabaret, showing at The Playhouse on Rodney Square March 13-18.

This is such an iconic piece of musical theater and role. What drew you to it?

My first experience with the musical was in high school, when my teacher played a clip of the song Willkommen, from the movie. I didn’t really understand the context then. I learned more about the work in Musical History during my senior year at UD, and I began to appreciate the composition much more.

As for the role [of Cliff], I didn’t know much about it [beyond my past two experiences]. Once I submitted for it, I researched — watching Sam Mendes’ 1998 revival on the BBC and was enamored by it — and realized I had to do this role.

Do you feel not knowing much background on the piece helped you?

Yes, in a way. I tend to overthink things, but here, I didn’t have time to do that. Our director [BT McNicholl] gave me great advice on the role, and I think that was most helpful for me in developing the character.

Talk about your experience as part of the cast of Cabaret.

This experience has been nothing but positive! It’s cliché but it’s true — this role and show have changed my life. Working with BT [McNicholl] has been a dream. He’s a genius! He’s inspired me and made me excited about theater in a whole new way.

As for the role itself? I feel Cliff is a character trying to find himself. I think any young person can relate to that idea. I try to relate the role to my college experience…you go not knowing what it will be like or what you’ll do.

Do you have other favorite roles or productions, either professionally or while at UD?

I loved playing Bobby Strong in Urinetown — especially his demeanor and character. The entire show and music fit me well; it was one time I felt I could be funny and truly “let loose.”

I enjoyed playing King Arthur in Camelot about a year ago at the Compass Rose Theater in Annapolis. Arthur’s monologues and songs are beautiful, and that work made me grow as an actor. It gave me a confidence I didn’t have going into it.

I appreciated the role Matt in The Fantasticks. That show is just beautifully written. Also, I played the role when I was 19 — the exact age of the character. It was wonderful to have his perspective and take on that role on as someone his age.

How do you feel about returning to Delaware for your performance in Cabaret?

I’m so excited. Like every college student knows, the person entering at age 18 and exiting at age 22 are vastly different, but I feel the friends and experiences I had motivated me to arrive where I am now. I knew I wanted to do something creative, and I found it by the end of my time at UD.

Many of my music and theater mentors are still here. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to know they might be in the audience…but they helped me discover my passion, so it will be great to be able to share it with them.

Are there any places you’d love to revisit while you’re here?

I don’t know where to begin! Definitely I’d love to visit TheREP and the [Amy E. du Pont] Music Building. In reality, I may not have time to get there, but think everyone could benefit from seeing shows at TheREP.

I’ve told our cast from Day 1: You won’t have a better time than if you go to downtown Newark. All the bars and restaurants — such a fun nightlife! One of my favorite places was Catherine Rooney’s on Thursdays nights and Kildare’s Irish Pub (although it’s no longer there).

So, what do you think? Please comment below.