Plenty of cabarets are laden with songs of pain, loss, and the intricacies of romance gone wrong. Singer and actor Ben Dibble's Are We There Yet? Just a Little Father(hood Cabaret) at the Arden Theatre Company follows only some of those associations, but leaves plenty of room for laughter.
A man for all stages
One of Philadelphia’s most versatile performers -- he's appeared in at least 19 shows at the Arden alone -- and known for dramatic turns (Parade), avant-comedy (Bat Boy), and rich, diverse musicals such as Assassins, Tulipomania, A Year With Frog and Toad, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Dibble has a big, sharp tenor voice that works as an exquisitely emotive tool for musicals old (High Society) and new (Walnut Street Theatre’s upcoming production of Saturday Night Fever).
Aside from his Olympian talents and protean work ethic (he also teaches voice at University of the Arts), Dibble is known for his family of three children (“the Dibblets” as they are known in theater circles) and his wife, teacher and director Amy Dugas Brown. Spend more than a minute with Dibble offstage and he’s beaming with pride about his brood, extended further by a father-in-law with whom the family lives in Malvern, Pennsylvania.
The story of how Dibble achieved familial nirvana (to say nothing of getting from Malvern to Philly and back home in time to put his kids to bed) becomes the center of this new cabaret performance. Together with musical director and pianist Dan Kazemi and guitarist Nero Catalano, Dibble kicked things off with Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher’s The Muppet Movie classic, “The Rainbow Connection,” and moved chronologically from the time he met his then-married wife at the Arden. She was the company’s associate artistic director and he was an orange-wigged, goofily outfitted character in Jack in the Beanstalk. The story continues right up until this most recent St. Patrick’s Day weekend, with local playwright and composer Michael Ogborn’s boozy jig “My Mother's Frying Pan.”
Recalling that he didn’t want to be married until he was 30 and didn’t want children until a decade later, Dibble joked about drunkenly telling the married Brown he wanted to woo her; that dream came true when she separated several years later. To illustrate, Dibble crooned George Gershwin’s playfully jazzy “They All Laughed” and Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” followed with a punchline: “I was married by 26, with three kids by the age of 30.”
Dibble spoke of being buoyed by the start of a handsome family and the lullabies he got to sing (an example of which came with a ballad’s spare guitar-and-voice rendition of “Second Star to the Right"). Of course, he also found himself chugging caffeine by the gallon and highlighted that revelation with a “Coffee Medley” featuring “Taylor, the Latte Boy” (a song popularized by Kristen Chenoweth), with lyrics he re-jiggered.
The poignancy of those lullabies hit harder when the Dibble mentioned his late father David, a teacher and local actor. David, who suffered from clinical depression, committed suicide when Dibble was just ten. He punctuated this story with Yip Harburg’s "Drivin' and Dreamin'," a song whose lyrics paralleled David’s life and yearnings. Dibble talked happily of his family and of bringing a little of his father into every character he performs.
The cabaret came full circle with Dibble’s explanation that healing came when he was able to build his own family and continue his art form, honoring both his father and himself.