Dionne Lea Is Bringing a Cabaret Show to Milwaukee

Catch the show on Aug. 26

Photo by Ericka Kreutz Photography

Actress, singer and Milwaukee native Dionne Lea is finally bringing her live cabaret show to her hometown. Lea’s show “The Way It Is…Now” is at the Marcus Performing Arts Center’s Wilson Theater at Vogel Hall (929 N. Water St) on Aug. 26.

It’ll feature a mix of stories and songs that tackle Lea’s favorite topics ranging from cancel culture to cancer culture. Other topics include marriage, mortality, superfoods, Super Bowl, Black Power and more. Lea has been performing a cabaret show for about a decade, but this will mark the first time that she’ll be performing in Milwaukee.

“It is special, because I talk about Milwaukee a lot in the show,” Lea told Milwaukee Magazine. “I always talk about my family. I feel like if I can do well in Milwaukee and my family can be there to see me, then I can make it through this entire tour. It’s important for me to start in Milwaukee. I’ve been trying to get a show here for years, and I finally did it.”

Lea, the youngest of 12 children in her family, was born and raised in Milwaukee and graduated from Milwaukee High School of the Arts.


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“When Washington Park used to hold musicals, I performed in those,” she said. “I recall doing ‘Anything Goes’ and “Hello Dolly.’”

Now based in Los Angeles, Lea is producing the cabaret show along with her husband Keith David, a screen and voice actor regarded for his deep voice and commanding screen presence. He has appeared in more than 300 roles in film, stage, television and interactive media. His film credits include Platoon, Armageddon, Requiem for a Dream, Cloud Atlas and Nope. He’s voiced film characters that have include Dr. Facilier in The Princess and the Frog and the Cat in Coraline.

David starred as Elroy Patashnik in the sixth season of the NBC series “Community” and as James Greenleaf in the Oprah Winfrey Network’s “Greenleaf.” He’s also won three Emmy awards for narration.

David said the audience should expect the unexpected in the upcoming cabaret show.

“You do come to a show like this, and you expect to hear Broadway tunes,” David said. “But the tunes you will hear you have to listen to as if for the first time because they are re-tuned, so that you have to listen anew.”

Lea said she’s embraced the cabaret-style show because it allows for creative freedom.

Photo by Ericka Kreutz Photography

“Cabaret is a loose term and a term created for shows that don’t really have a clear definition,” she said. “Cabaret can be anything. It’s a genre that allows you to create freely. The Broadway folks think of it as singing Broadway tunes and telling little stories. There’s also the vaudevillian kind of cabaret, where it can be a little bit bawdy or raunchy. That’s what a lot of people innately think of. But I think of it as a free way for me to tell stories. I consider myself a storyteller and I use cabaret as my genre because I want to sing, because I’m a singer, but I also want to tell stories, as well. I like this challenge.”

Lea said her desire is to leave the audience “feeling smarter, curious, excited and also feeling hopeful.”

Lea’s credits include American Fusion, Ray Meets Helen, Dolphin Island and the recent comedy horror flick The Prank, alongside the legendary Rita Moreno. Lea also produces the podcast “The Way I am…Now,” which features influential figures from entertainment, sports and philanthropy who share with Lea their life-changing experiences.

Milwaukee will serve as the kick-off performance of “The Way It Is…Now.” Other tour stops include Chicago, Albuquerque, Houston, Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York.

David said he is also looking forward to returning to Milwaukee, to which he formed a bond while receiving training at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to become a speech teacher. He recalled Sandy Robbins running the Professional Theatre Training Program at UWM at the time, working at Summerfest during his time in Milwaukee and hanging out at the Coffee Trader on Downer Avenue.

“I have a relationship with Milwaukee,” David said. “I absolutely adore my history with Milwaukee.”

A meet and greet with Lea and David will be held immediately following Saturday’s show.

“If you want to have a good time, come and see the show,” David said.



Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.