“Cabaret” live at Kuss Auditorium

Kyra Christopher (center) plays the saxaphone with the ensamble of Cabaret

By Tim Smith

In the musical theatre universe, there are many shows that are considered timeless. Some are legendary for their story, some for the songs that became standards, and some for their impact on pop culture. “Cabaret” seems to fit all three categories. A newly-formed tour of this perennial favorite will be presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company at Springfield’s Kuss Auditorium on Jan. 10. 

“Cabaret” debuted on Broadway in 1966, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. The book is by Joe Masteroff and is based on John Van Druten’s 1951 play “I Am a Camera.” Set in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, it focuses on the nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub, and revolves around young American writer Cliff Bradshaw and his relationship with English cabaret performer Sally Bowles. The show was a hit, winning several awards, and was the basis for a 1972 movie of the same name. The film adaptation by director/choreographer Bob Fosse also won critical acclaim, and is noteworthy for giving Liza Minelli her first major big screen exposure. 

The show has been revived several times on Broadway, and each revival seems to add or change elements from the original. According to cast member Kyra Christopher, the current incarnation borrows from an earlier one.

“Much of our production is directly derived from the 1998 Roundabout revival with the use of Rob Ashford’s inventive choreography, Sam Mendes’ thought-provoking staging and conceptual ideas, and Michael Wilson’s brilliant orchestrations,” she says. “There are so many variables every time this version of the show is done based on each cast’s skill sets. For example, I play the alto saxophone and play the gorilla in the second act, but the girl who played Frenchie in ‘98 on Broadway may have played the viola and had to play her instrument during that song. Constructing our version of ‘Cabaret’ together was like creatively assembling a puzzle.” 

This tour marks the 50th anniversary of the iconic show. When Van Druten’s play was initially envisioned as a musical, it was a dramatic story preceded by a prologue of songs describing the Berlin atmosphere from various points of view. As the composers began to distribute the songs between scenes, they realized the story could be told in the structure of a more traditional book musical, and they replaced some of the songs with tunes more relevant to the plot. Christopher points out that the show’s theme is just as timely now as it was then.

“I’m looking forward to telling this important, heart-wrenching, yet incredibly entertaining story every night,” she says. “I’m the first person to adore a frivolous, feel-good, golden age musical, but the story that ‘Cabaret’ remarks upon is a narrative that is growing ever more essential to tell even after 50 years. The show is as perfectly structured, in my opinion, as a musical can get. As an actor, I don’t have to ‘search’ for a story, but rather can indulge, expand, and explore the givens each and every night. I have a feeling that I am going to discover something new every night, which is incredibly rewarding for an actor.”

The process of getting a new show ready for the road was arduous, but ultimately rewarding.

“On the first day of rehearsal, our diligent and talented choreographer, Jennifer Werner Cannizzaro, told us that this is the most difficult show she had ever been in,” Christopher says. “This was one of the quickest rehearsal processes I had ever experienced, but the cast dove right into the challenge, and I’m really proud of that initial time-consuming hard work that allowed us to play more freely later on in the process. We all did a lot of homework before coming into rehearsals, which allowed us to better understand the givens of the decadent, lascivious Weimar Republic in Berlin.”

The cast members are considered quadruple threats, because they can sing, dance, act, and play a musical instrument. Christopher is a graduate of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and plays alto saxophone in the production.

“My strengths reside in musical theatre and specifically dance, and I hadn’t played the saxophone since high school, so picking it back up took a lot of practice,” she says. “When I was a kid, I used to say I wanted to be a musical theatre performer or play the saxophone, so it’s kind of a dream come true that I get to do both. Some of my castmates play multiple instruments and have made their career from playing, but haven’t had as much dance experience, so we help each other out. There is a wonderful sense of respect for one another’s strengths and weaknesses and it’s a joy to share the stage with such multi-talented individuals.”

Christopher and the rest of the company would like the audience to leave this performance feeling a bit more enlightened as well as being entertained. 

“In today’s social and political climate, with the ever-growing schisms that seem to separate human connection, I hope it gets people to think about how we treat one another,” she says. “If only for fifteen minutes after the curtain closes, I hope audience members reflect upon how they look at people, and how they treat people who are different from them.” 

“Cabaret” will be presented at Kuss Auditorium, 300 S. Fountain Ave., Springfield on Jan. 10 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $38.00 to $58.00 and can be obtained by calling 937.328.3874, or by visiting ClarkState.edu.  This performance contains mature content, and parental guidance is suggested. 

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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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