Theater & Dance
Keith Pinto

Current show: "Cabaret"
By: Book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb
Produced by: Hillbarn Theatre
Directed by: Erica Wyman-Abrahamson
Choreographed by: Riette Burdick Fallant
Music direction by: Joseph Murphy
Featuring: Melissa WolfKlain, Keith Pinto, Brad Satterwhite, Linda Piccone, Paul Araguistain, Patrick Brewer, Danny Martin, Russell Ward, Noelani Neal, Rachelle Abbey, Christine Baker, Catrina Manahan, Jessica Maxey, Jessica Whittemore, Gabrielle Traub, Doug Greer, Jon Schneider, Leo McMahon
Running time: 120 minutes, one intermission
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; January 19 through February 5, 2017
Where: Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City
Tickets: $20-$48; viait
Read John Orr's review of "Cabaret."
Coming show: "Altar Boyz" (director)
When: May 26-July 1, 2017
Where: Center Repertory, Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, California
Tickets: $37-$72; visit or call 925-943-7469.

Neal, Pinto
Mark & Tracy Photography / Hillbarn Theatre
The extremely lithe Noelani Neal as Fritzie, left, and wild-eyed Keith Pinto as the Emcee in Hillbarn Theatre's stunning production of "Cabaret." The show runs January 19 through February 5, 2017.
Strutting, dancing the busy life
of a career in musical theater
Keith Pinto is a thrilling, polished performer
who makes the most of his seven-gig existence
February 4, 2017

Keith Pinto is stunning and brilliant in the absolutely amazing production of "Cabaret" currently on stage at Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City.

As Emcee, he struts and glares and sneers his way across the stage, holding us in the thrall of this spellbinding tale of the decadence before the storm, with its unforgettable music and wall-to-wall cast of gorgeous women and men.

Pinto is one of two Actors Equity members in this show, the other being the sublimely talented Melissa WolfKlain, and he more than delivers for whatever he's being paid, clenching the hearts of a delighted audience in Emcee's fists.

"I've never done 'Cabaret' before," he said, during an early January interview. "It's one of the great shows, and also it's on tour currently. It was just on Broadway a year or so ago. It's not that readily available to be done by most regional companies.

"When I saw Hillbarn was doing it, I thought, 'Ooh, here's a chance.'"

"Caberet" is almost the family business, in a sense. Pinto's wife, Allison Ewing, who, like Pinto, has appeared on most major Bay Area stages and works in and out of New York, is in that aforementioned national tour, playing Fraulein Kost and Fritzie. That show will be in San Jose, June 6-11, 2017. (Click here for tour site.)

On January 5, when he was interviewed, Pinto had been rehearsing with the overall excellent cast for just a few days, but everybody was already off book (scripts no longer needed in hand).

The non-union cast, including some truly fabulous performers such as Jessica Whittemore, Jessica Maxey and Noelani Neal, had been rehearsing through December with director Erica Wyman Abrahamson.

"I've been working on the material on my own," Pinto said. "Each company is different. Often times, with these types of companies, they can't afford to rehearse the Equity actors as long as everybody else. They have to trust that we'll be on our game, and come in and execute."

Execute he does, helping to deliver the story of the Kit Kat Club in 1931 and its denizens and neighbors. The story is based on Christopher Isherwood's novel, "Goodbye to Berlin," which became John Van Druten's play, "I Am a Camera," which became "Cabaret," with book by Joe Masteroff, which lyrics by Fred Ebb and music by John Kander.

A would-be novelist, the American Cliff (played well here by Brad Satterwhite, who in his other life is a published novelist) comes to Berlin, looking for life and a cheap place to live. Thanks to a fellow he meets in a train station, Ernst (well played by Russell Ward ) he finds a place to live, in Fraulein Schneider's rooming house; and a place to play, the Kit Kat Club.

Which leads to meeting Sally Bowles, a 19-year-old British singer who has earned some of her money by means other than singing (WolfKlain is excellent in the role).

The music is sharp, the lyrics are cynical and the story, while heavily laden with humor and sex, is ultimately tragic, as it shows Germany's slide into Nazism.

Emcee is "a kind of Puck-like character, from 'Midsummer Night's Dream,' kind of mischievous," said Pinto. "He's almost a fool-like character who can call the audience out, on what he assumes they are thinking. He has a very mischievous streak to him. He's just a lot of fun to play. The way he interacts with the cast."

Hillbarn decided to do the 1998 Broadway revival version, Pinto pointed out, "so it's very risque."

Among other things, that means that the song "Two Ladies" features one woman and one man as the "Two Ladies," with the Emcee singing and dancing with them.

And it means lots of grabbing of crotches and breasts, and this line on the Hillbarn ticket page: "18 and under must have parent permission due to strong content."

"It's a crazy musical ... and still very poignant," Pinto said. "It centers around Germany descending into fascism, and with whom we've just elected as president-elect, there are many similarities. It's sort of like a broken mirror ... you feel like it's ancient history. It wasn't that long ago ... we just seem to repeat the same mistake over and over again. It's hard to not see the parallels between then and now.

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"Still, it's nice when you can do theater that entertains, but also speaks to the time we are living in."

But, Pinto added, "aside from the political undertones and sometimes overones, the Emcee is just so fun. I get to do these little vignettes, all these songs. 'Wilkommen,' 'Money.' A patter song, with all this great texture and energy. 'If You Could See Her' (through my eyes).' ... and 'I Don't Care Much' — I. get to just stand behind a mic stand and just sing it."

This Hillbarn production is based on the 1998 Broadway revival, which ran for 2,377 performances, making it the third-longest lasting revival in Broadway history. "The whole tone is just way darker," Pinto said. "A prime example is 'Two Ladies.' In Joel Grey's times it was him and two ladies. But in the 1998 revival, it was Lulu and Bobby. A girl and a guy." (Grey originated the Emcee role on Broadway, and starred in the 1972 film.)

This production of "Cabaret" came in a relatively calm period in Pinto's life.

"You have to keep busy as an actor in the Bay Area," he said. "There's no way you can just do one thing. You have to do seven things."

Among his seven regular things is Pinto serves as an adjunct professor and San Jose State and Ohlone colleges, teaching hip-hop dance. For the last 20 years, anyway. Before that, he also taught jazz dancing.

He is also part of Felonious, an award-winning band and theater company. "We played as a band for over a decade and toured California and played internationally," Pinto said. "I am still active in the theater company and we are currently working on an all-female, hip-hop adaption of "The Merchant of Venice," which I will choreograph."

Following the college winter break and the closing of "Cabaret," Pinto will be back to teaching, and will also be preparing to direct "Altar Boyz" at Center Rep in Walnut Creek.

Pinto grew up in Los Altos, where "about 5th grade, I think my 5th-grade teacher told my mother she should get me involved in theater."

He'd been singing in a church choir, and doing talent shows, but when he went to an audition at Los Altos Youth Theater, he "loved it, and never looked back." Pinto said Tom Carter, who directed him at Los Altos Youth Theater, remains his "biggest mentor as far as acting goes."

Pinto auditioned for "Peter Pan" at TheatreWorks when he was in the 6th grade. "The dance audition killed me. (Robert) Kelley cast me anyway. "I told my parents I had to learn to dance. They were like, 'OK.'

"My folks were totally supportive. I wasn't a great student — they were just thrilled that there was something I wanted to do. I'd always hated sports, tried the martial arts but didn't like it. But my folks supported me all the way, even when I was in New York.

Pinto's dad, Lee, is retired from a job with the city of Sunnyvale. Pinto' s mom, Elaine, started working in the office of a dance studio Pinto attended, learned the business, and took it over. She now runs Dance Attack! studios in Los Gatos and Sunnyvale.

Pinto's sisters, Catherine and Juliette, have both taught dance, and Juliette still does, although Catherine "has a corporate gig now."

After college, Pinto went to New York for the endless audition rounds, and did the national tour of "Fame" and also went to went to Europe with the show. He came back to the Bay Area in "1999 or 2000" and has been here ever since.

Pinto's wife, Allison Ewing, has lived in Mill Valley for more than 10 years, and "when we started dating, I pretty much moved in," said Pinto, "then we got married."

Their home "feels like a tree house, 30 feet up in a redwood tree," he said. They have a dog and a nice life, although he has to leave at 6:30 a.m. to get to class in San Jose by 9, and despite being separated by the demands of their careers.

Children are a possibility, Pinto said, although, "at this point, Allison's career is really hopping. She just closed 'Mamma Mia!' on Broadway, and was on tour before that, with 'Flashdance,' and 'Mamma Mia!' It's hard to say, 'Why don't you stop, honey, and have a child?'

"It's hard. We have good days and bad days, like anyone. The main thing, she is home at the moment, and flying out tomorrow morning. Truly, what gets us through is planning the next time we will see each other, to have something to look forward to. We talk every day, and text constantly."

And, they each get on airplanes to go see each other, as often as they can.

Email John Orr at

Maxey, Pinto, Martin
Mark & Tracy Photography / Hillbarn Theatre
It could be said that gender equality is celebrated in the Hillbarn production of "Cabaret," as Keith Pinto, center, sings "Two Ladies" with Jessica Maxey, left, as Frenchie, and Danny Martin as Victor. The powerful show runs January 19 through February 5, 2017.
Pinto, Rich, Hollister, Rothrock, Birr
Dave Lepori / San Jose Stage
In a scene from "The Wild Party" at San Jose Stage are, standing from left, Keith Pinto, Allison F. Rich, Joshua Hollister and Nathaniel Rothrock. Mike Birr is on the ground. The show runs June 4 through July 24, 2016.
Pinto, Drummond
Jessica Palopoli / San Francisco Playhouse
Keith Pinto as Robert, left, and Ryan Drummond as David in the 2015 production of "Company" at San Francisco Playhouse.
WolfKlain, Pinto
Tracy Martin / Diablo Theatre Company
Melissa WolfKlain, left, and Keith Pinto in "Singin' in the Rain," at Diable Theatre Company in 2013.
Pinto, Beh
Jessica Palopoli / San Francisco Playhouse
Keith Pinto as The Baker, left, and El Beh as the Baker's wife in "Into the Woods" at San Francisco Playhouse in 2014.
Pinto, Kail
Kevin Berne / Center Repertory Company
Keith Pinto, left, and Lyndsy Kail in "The Underpants," a Steve Martin comedy staged at Center Repertory Company in 2012.