By Lynn Venhaus
During the past year, actor-composer Paul Cereghino has had opportunities to combine his music performance and composing skills with theatrical productions, and it’s been life-changing.
‘If my whole life were nothing but straddling theater and piano like I have this past year, I would die the happiest homosexual that ever lived. For some reason, I thought I had to keep these two worlds separated, but playing with both simultaneously has shown me new reasons to be happy,” he said.
“I’ve struggled thinking I should pick one. But I don’t want to choose, and I’m going live my life refusing to do that,” he said.
As Cosme McMoon, Florence Foster Jenkins’ patient and understanding accompanist in “Souvenir,” he won a St. Louis Theatre Circle Award for Best Actor in a Comedy. Max and Louie Productions presented the two-character show, with music, last December. Debby Lennon, who played the tone-deaf socialite-philanthropist, also was recognized by the Circle as Best Actress.
Dapper in tails, he served as the narrator while playing the baby grand piano. Funny, warm, heartfelt — he shared McMoon’s real-life experiences to paint an authentic picture of his relationship with Jenkins, as a friend and boss.
Earlier that fall, in a very different role, Paul was part of the avant-garde “Titus Androgynous” Shakespeare adaptation produced by Young Liars in a raucous fake blood-spattered space. He acted in a small part and as the fearless narrator, but also composed and performed an original score throughout the show.
Recently, he played several roles in Max and Louie’s limited-run production of “End of the Rainbow,” which was a dramatic play, with music, about the last months of Judy Garland’s life. In 1968, she staged a comeback series of concerts at the London Palladium.
And while he didn’t get to play music onstage, he was an integral part of the show. He served as a BBC interviewer, porter and assistant stage manager.
“In this show, I supported the story however I could in my little roles. And I was grateful that I got to play piano backstage as well,” he said.
“I felt incredibly lucky to be doing this show. Everyone was lovely and inspiring. And I hate how much I love Angela,” he said.
Cereghino said he is now inspired by her career decisions.
“She was dissatisfied with the roles she was getting cast in, so she decided to do what she loved and live in the world of Judy Garland,” he said. “She motivates me to produce my own work.”
Being part of the show also gave him more insight into Garland.
“My love for Judy will never change. I love her more now,” he said.
“During this show, I learned how much Judy was abused by the studios. During ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ she was being sexually abused by studio executives. It’s shocking and also not shocking. I’m so grateful for the #metoo movement for speaking truth to power. We must all listen more.”
His next project is an immersive Shakespeare piece that Rebel and Misfits Productions will perform this fall. The title has not been announced, and the cast must not reveal it until then.
Q&A with Paul Cereghino
1. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
“It’s the thing that makes me happiest besides eating and making out. “
2. How would your friends describe you?
“Always eating. Usually flirtatious and compassionate.”
3. How do you like to spend your spare time?
“Listening to music, writing music, thinking that I should be writing music.”
4. What is your current obsession?
“Therapy. It’s amazing and I wish I had begun long ago.”
5. What would people be surprised to find out about you?
“I don’t know that people would be surprised by anything. I don’t conceal much these days. Maybe that I despise raw celery.”
6. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
“I think it’s more of a recurring thing. Sometimes it’s after I’ve just left friends, or maybe when I’m in a new place, and then the world seems to get a little bigger. And when that happens I have a thought — not that I should be happier but that I could be happier in a different way.”
7. Who do you admire most?
“Anyone that makes people feel included. Also, playwright and producer Danai Gurira, who starred in “Black Panther.” (I mean, she wasn’t the star, but she WAS the star if you know what I mean.)”
8. What is at the top of on your bucket list?
“Write a musical.”
9. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
“Dancing with my theater family at JJ’s early in the night before the crowd shows up.”
10. What’s next?
“An immersive theater project with Rebel and Misfits.”
MORE ON PAUL
Name: Paul Cereghino
Birthplace: St. Louis
Current location: St. Louis
Family: very single with a couple of nephews
Education: BFA Theatre Arts in 2009 from Boston University School of Theatre
Day job: Choir accompanist at Parkway North High School. Freelance acting and singing teacher and music director, theater instructor at Stages Performing Arts Academy.
First job: Day job was as a cookie baker. Theatre job was as Brooklyn boy at Olney Theater center. They made me a blonde.
First role: Floyd the piano playing janitor in “The Phantom of the Music Room” 4th grade.
Favorite roles/plays: Hedwig in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”
Dream role/play: Hedwig in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” — I want another crack at it.
Awards/Honors/Achievements: Paying my bills while working in the arts. Best actor in a Comedy for “Souvenir” 2018 St. Louis Theater Circle Awards.
Favorite quote/words to live by: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else.” — RuPaul
A song that makes you happy: “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free” by Nina Simone.
Paul as Ash in Stray Dog’s second production of “Evil Dead: The Musical.”
Paul in “The Little Dog Laughed,” with Bradley Behrmann.