Actor Seth Paden gets a dream role checked off his list in ‘Cabaret’

RICH LOPEZ | Staff writer

While Seth Paden is no stranger to the stage, it was just more than a year ago that he debuted in Dallas, making a big splash as a lead in Uptown Players’ Head Over Heels. Because of that show, he moved to Dallas to find a whole new theater community. He quickly became a regular at Uptown but this week, Paden makes another debut, this time at Theatre Arlington where he is taking on an iconic queer role.

Theatre Arlington opens its new season on Friday, Feb. 9, with Cabaret, and Paden takes over the role as the Emcee. But for this production, TA is going a bit retro.

“This is the 1966 version that was before the movie, so there are some differences in that sense,” Paden said. “When it comes to the Emcee, people either know the Alan Cumming version or the Joel Grey one. Mine is more Joel Grey.”

We always accept the flamboyance of the character. But, Paden said, the script never addressed him in that fashion. The Emcee — appropriately enough — is a mystery. Paden and his director, TA Executive Producer Steven D. Morris, have worked on fleshing the character out.

“He and I both believe [the Emcee is] bi, but we’ve been working out his sexuality,” Paden said. “But mostly, I take it that he represents the population at the time. There was a sort of hedonistic lifestyle where anything goes.”

What’s become important to Paden are the lessons that come with playing this role.

“People were really giving in to immorality, I guess, with the Nazi party looming. Life kind of sucked, and people were numbing themselves,” he said. “Plus, I learned that trans people could move so freely throughout the population. It feels cool learning all this stuff as a queer man of this era, and I’m challenging myself to infuse that into my character.”

With Paden as The Emcee, Presley Duyck will star as Sally Bowles. Since Paden’s first role in Head Over Heels, he went on to perform in the Uptown annual fundraiser revue Broadway Our Way of which Duyck is also a staple. The two both performed in Uptown’s season opener last month, Jada Bells: A Holiday Extravaganza.

While he has auditioned at other theaters, Paden said he has found a home with Uptown. “The community there is insanely welcoming, and Jeff and Craig create an energy that’s unmatched,” he said.

Jeff Rane and Craig Lynch “discovered” Paden when he performed the Head Over Heels role in Oklahoma City, and they invited him to audition for the Uptown production. It was good timing for Paden.

“I was ready to move on. I love the energy that Dallas has to offer,” he said. “And I’ve loved my experience at Theatre Arlington. I get some of the same vibes there, and that’s very nice.”

It’s not a stretch to compare the air of Cabaret and the Nazi cloud hanging over it to today’s climate; the oppression, prejudice, censorship all feel very familiar.

This isn’t lost on Paden.

“It’s made me wonder if I’m not fighting enough for my community. People weren’t paying attention to what was going on [in 1930s Germany], and I think that’s where we are today.”

Growing up in a conservative, religious family within the megachurch system, Paden was certain his path was to become a youth pastor. But church is also where he got a taste for theater, performing in smaller stage sketches. He said figuring himself out pulled him away from the church. But he lucked out with his family.

“So many queer people have this experience I think. I had good times in church, and all my friends were there. I lost a lot of friends when I came out,” he said. “It’s been a long journey with my parents, but we’ve come to an understanding. They know me for me, and, while there’s a long way to go, the work begins with me. I think we just need to open up and have conversations to reach people.”

The Master of Ceremonies may be a mystery, but he is perhaps the most open of all the characters in Cabaret. Paden is ready to serve and slay all day.

“I love acting and singing so much, and I’ve loved this musical for so long,” the self-proclaimed musical theater nerd said. “Playing this role is like the culmination of my whole life so far. This is a dream role for me, and it’s honestly been my biggest joy to create him.”

For tickets, visit TA Pride Night is Feb. 17. Say “Pride” at the box office for a free gift.