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'Dreamgirls' Yvette Cason discusses kids, career and doing Panto theater in San Diego

Yvette Cason stars in "A Snow White Christmas" in San Diego.
Photo credit:
Yvette Cason

 With a career that spans for as long as perhaps she’d care for me to mention, Yvette Cason has been busy throughout the decades and now she’s in San Diego with what seems to be renewed vigor in the Lythgoe family production of A Snow White Christmas.

The first thing I noticed about her when I called for the interview is that she a wonderful person to talk to. We discussed everything from the current state of politics to child rearing.

We will leave the political discussion between us, but I will say we are in agreement about our concern for the country and the next four years.

But her passion for parenting and making sure her son goes out into the world well-adjusted with her teachings of what’s right mixed with his own motivations seemed to put her at ease.

Our conversation, which was supposed to be about her playing the Wicked Queen in a Snow White Christmas, now playing at the San Diego’s Lyceum Theatre, sidetracked into a wonderful exchange as if we’d known each other for years.

Her sagacity and advice for me as a frazzled parent was not only supportive, but empathetic.

“As you know with children there are no do-overs, the moment only happens once,” she said.

Perhaps Yvette is best known for being the understudy for Effie White in the original 1981 production of “Dreamgirls.” She would revisit that storyline in the 2006 film version starring as Effie’s (Beyonce) mother in a role created just for the movie.

As a real-life mother, parenting is her most important role. Her son is now a junior in high school so the singer has been slowly reclaiming the use of her gifts.

“I made sure in the early part of his life that I was choosey about the jobs I took because I didn’t want to miss taking him to school and picking him up, and being able to have dialogue with him, and watch him grow into the young man he’s grown into. But now, Mama’s got to get out there and do what she’s gotta do you know?”

And my how Mama has reclaimed her place and voice on the stage and in the industry, “When I’m performing I’m in my happy place and my happy space,” she said. 

Recently, she played Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone in the very popular A Night with Janice Joplin at the Pasadena Playhouse and just finished her starring role in Robert O’Hara’s Barbeque in September.

Even more exciting is her upcoming role in the Disney blockbuster Wrinkle in Time, something she used to read to her son. And she's released a brand-new Christmas album.

Wrinkle in Time will be released in theaters in 2018 and is directed by Ava DuVernay, the person behind Middle of Nowhere and the critically acclaimed Selma.

But let’s get back to A Snow White Christmas, perhaps the role that is the beginning of Yevette’s entertainment renaissance.

The musical is in the style of Panto, an English theater distinction which incorporates audience interaction through non-existent fourth walls.

“This is new to me,” Yvette laughs. “When I got it, I was like, wait a minute...I have heard of it, I just have never participated in one.”

As I mentioned before when she and I were talking about our families, I got a sense that children are a very important part of her life. Not only her own, but others as well.

I kept giving anecdotes about my 10 and 12-year-olds and like a doting auntie she kept telling me how everything I was experiencing as a parent was normal and to not be so quick to want to see them grow up.

“We never stop being parents, we are going to be parents until we die,” she said.

This new San Diego production will definitely involve children, in fact Panto is primarily to give kids an appreciation for theater, especially lower income families.  

“It’s a first for me," she explains. "I get to break that wall and interact with the audience and they interact with me so that’s exciting, that’s new, especially with children and the character I’m playing because everyone loves to hate the bad person, the evil person. So, I’m looking forward to it, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

I asked her about the dancing that will accompany her performance in Snow White. She laughs, “I don’t look at myself as a dancer now. Now I move well."

“I am no stranger to choreography, of course it’s been a minute,” she says. “You know Michael Peters when I did Dreamgirls, he was my first choreographer. And Michael Bennet was my first director. I mean talk about being put in a situation in a show with these great people. “

Yvette says she is looking forward to the whole experience, interacting with the audience in Panto-style performing.

“This will be the first time I’ve worked with the Lythgoe family, this is a big thing they do I know every year and the people I’ll be working with as well.”

One of those people is Neil Patrick Harris. Although he won’t be live on stage with her as his performance is pre-recorded as the Magic Mirror.

“It’s nice to know that I will be seeing his face every day, I love him. I’m aging myself, but I remember him as Doogie Howser.”

There’s a lot that can be said about Yvette’s career, and with everything that is coming up for her, it’s appears she’s going to be busier than ever. Her strength seems to be in taking everything she loves and molding it with care and devoutness.

Much like her life, and what I discovered about her, there will never be a time when she isn’t making use of her talents whether it be a mother to a musical icon, or the mother to her own son.

Her voice resonates not only with me, but from her mark at center-stage.

She's a true performer who will never leave her audience or those closest to her down. The care she takes with her family is the same she uses to entertain, and each curtain call ends with that beaming smile of hers.

Yvette hopes that her elation for the arts is transferred to the people immersed in her performances, whether it be listening to her new album, a blockbuster Disney film, or the open-world, interactive production of Panto theater.

She made me feel good several times during our discussion and as you will find out, it’s just another thing she naturally does well.

“I’m going to be in a position to make people smile. That’s what I intend to do,” she said.

A Snow White Christmas will play at San Diego’s Lyceum Theatre starting Friday, December 2, and runs through Saturday, December 24. 

For more information and tickets to "A Snow White Christmas" click HERE.