The world according to Cassidy

Publication Date: Friday Sep 24, 1999

The world according to Cassidy

Palo Altan Denise Balthrop Cassidy stars in the cabaret 'And the World Goes Round' in San Francisco

by Karen O'Leary

Piaf's is a restaurant and cabaret in San Francisco named after the famous French singer, Edith Piaf, who generated nostalgia, sweet longing and steam in European cabarets during the '30s and '40s. It's a fitting setting for Palo Alto's own Denise Balthrop Cassidy who generates her own fair share of heat.

The cabaret achieves the rich, nostalgic atmosphere of its namesake with legendary as well as rising talent. Sipping martinis in the magically lighted bistro sends the soul soaring to the tune of "La Vie En Rose."

Cassidy is currently performing in Piaf's dinner show featuring the Kander and Ebb musical review, "And the World Goes Round," along with world-renown cabaret singer Ruth Hastings and Los Altos-based Molly Bell. The music performed by Hastings, Bell, Cassidy, Alec Duffy and Jerry Skagerberg are from such Kander and Ebb musicals as "New York, New York," "Chicago" and "Cabaret."

An experienced actress, the cabaret scene is new for Cassidy. Without the usual ramp-up time normally allotted to the novice, she's delved into two new arenas this year: cabaret singing and theater directing.

Her directing debut in early September was a performance of Richard Ford's short story "The Communist" at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author actually attended the performance and was impressed with the fledgling director.

"It was the closest thing to real triumph that I've ever experienced," Cassidy said.

Earlier this summer, Cassidy performed at San Francisco's Eureka Theatre in Carl Djerassi's play, "Immaculate Misconception." The review by Steve Winn in the San Francisco Chronicle reported she was "serious and focused." Djerassi and the director were so pleased by her performance in his inaugural play that they cast her again in excerpts of the play that will be performed at Stanford University Oct. 18 as part of a medical humanities program.

Cassidy plays 37-year-old biologist Dr. Melanie Laidlaw, whose ambition was to usher in a new procedure for injecting human sperm directly into the egg. Inventor of the pill, scientist-turned-playwright Carl Djerassi of Stanford wrote the play to depict the complex issues surrounding fertility in the '90s. (For more information about the special program at Stanford's Lane History Building, room 307, in October, see or call (415) 331-9936.)

Cassidy's acting experience includes performances in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "How I Learned to Drive," and a world tour in performances as Viola in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" and Stella in Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire."

The last born in a steady succession of 10 children, Cassidy originally intended to study anthropology at Duke University. However, she found another calling after entering the American College Theatre Festival.

"I found my tribe," she said.

After completing a bachelor's degree in comparative area studies, she received her master's degree in drama from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. One of her first gigs right out of graduate school was at the Kennedy Center, where she played a hairdresser in "Sheer Madness." After teaching and performing as a guest artist at Cornell University, Cassidy headed for the bright lights and big city.

In Manhattan, she performed in an Off-Broadway production of "Silence of the Lambs." During a short stint when she wasn't acting, she served as a stand-in for Judy Davis in a Woody Allen film and, following that, had a bit part in Spike Lee's "Malcolm X"--bit as in itsy-bitsy, she hastily points out. One of her most memorable roles in New York turned out to be as Jerry Brown's campaign assistant during the 1992 campaign, before relocating to Palo Alto in 1993.

Appearing as the mother in Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive" at the Berkeley Repertory was one of her first formative experiences on the West Coast.

A respite from the madness of the theater, Cassidy finds solace and sanity with husband Barney Cassidy, her biggest fan and astute coach and critic.

Denise Balthrop Cassidy stars in "And The World Goes Round" through Oct. 9 at Piaf's, 1686 Market St., San Francisco. For more information, call (415) 864-3700.

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