LaPlace native conquers new ground with cabaret show

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 12, 2011

By David Vitrano


NEW ORLEANS – Among theatergoers, the word “cabaret” often conjures images of the iconic, racy musical set in 1930s-era Berlin. Among theater performers, however, the word can have very different and varying connotations.

For stage veteran and LaPlace native Leslie Castay, whose cabaret show, “Leslie Castay…unscripted,” begins its run Friday at Le Chat Noir in New Orleans, the word probably conjures images of scaling cliffs or running marathons or other challenging feats of human will.

“Cabaret is not for sissies,” said Castay. “It’s much harder than I thought it would be.”

She said putting the show together was a long and painstaking process, but once she learned how to approach it, the task became easier.

“A friend said to just start writing down songs that you love,” she said, adding, “It was a very organic process.”

In the end, it was deciding which songs not include that proved one of the more difficult hurdles. But with the help of her musical director, Jonne Dendinger, Castay whittled the original list of about 25 songs down to a more manageable number.

Said Castay, “It’s a real melting pot of musical styles.”

Besides the many musical numbers, audience members can expect interactive banter and a number of funny moments at the intimate Warehouse District venue.

“Le Chat is such a beautiful room to do my cabaret,” she said.

“(The show) basically follows my path,” said Castay, “and how things in life don’t always go according to plan.”

One of Castay’s favorite aspects of the show is the chance she will have to interact with audience members.

“You get to break the fourth wall,” she noted.

She is also excited about the potential for growth as the run progresses.

“I’ve never done (cabaret) before,” she said. “Since it’s my own show, I reserve the right to play around with it.”

Castay began her stage career with St. John Theatre in a production of “The Wizard of Oz” in which she played Dorothy. Then after earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in vocal performance from Tulane University, she headed to New York to enter the graduate program at New York University.

The rest sounds like a fairy tale for aspiring actors.

“I got cast sort of right away in a national tour of ‘Annie,’” she explained. “That sort of gave me my push to stay in New York.”

Over the next 20 years, Castay graced Broadway stages in productions of “42nd Street,” “Three Penny Opera” with Sting, “Guys and Dolls” and “Beauty and the Beast.” As part of the cast of “Beauty and the Beast,” Castay appeared in over 1,000 performances.

“I had the best job on Broadway,” she said.

But after 20 years, with both Castay and her husband craving a little more elbow room, the performer returned her native Louisiana, this time settling in New Orleans. They along with their two young daughters moved back a few months before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.

Since her return, Castay has graced local stages sporadically, most recently appearing at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre in “Grey Gardens” and “Forbidden Broadway” with fellow LaPlace native Dianna Duffy.

Aside from her onstage activities, Castay and her husband run Wine Institute New Orleans — or W.I.N.O — a Magazine Street store/ school/tasting room Castay described as a “candy store for grown ups.”

Following the run of “Leslie Castay…unscripted,” Castay is planning to take a little break.

“I’m looking forward to just getting back to normal,” she said. “I’m sure something will come up, though.”

“Leslie Castay…unscripted” premieres Friday at 8 p.m., with subsequent performances on Jan. 15, 28 and 29 also at 8 p.m. and an early show on Sunday, Jan. 16, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $30 and include a $5 bar credit. For tickets call 504-581-5812 or visit

Le Chat Noir is located at 715 St. Charles Ave. in New Orleans.