Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome! Im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret!
The emcee and the Kit Kat Klub beckon the audience into its sexy, hilarious and bizarre nightclub, where love and politics merge together in Germany, 1929-1930.
Above, black iron catwalks line the upper level of the stage, illuminated by round circular chase lights. Below, a red thrust stage fixed with spotlights extends into the audience.
Fire poles and circular staircases extend from top to bottom. Surrounding the stage are round tables ornamented by small lamps and old-fashioned telephones.
“We tried to capture the excitement of the decadence of Berlin and cabaret life in the opening scene,” says Valerie Joyce, the theatre department faculty director of the musical.
As a shroud of fog settles over the stage from a series of technical runs and a disco ball glimmers high up in the rafters, I feel confident that the cast and crew of “Cabaret” have done exactly that.
Villanova Theatre presents a three-week run of “Cabaret,” which previewed on Tuesday night, opened on Wednesday and features undergraduate actors, graduate Masters of Theatre students, individuals unaffiliated with the Villanova community and even a theatre professor.
“It’s not like anything I’ve played before,” says Mary Lamb on her role, as she combs back her blonde hair behind her ear with her fingers. The second-time Vasey actress and undergraduate communication major, along with many other cast members, had her hair cut into a stylish bob on campus the day before. She smiles and seems modestly proud of her new look.
The haircuts had been rumored since the beginning of rehearsal, but the cast did not know for sure until the last week. The hair was donated to make wigs for chemotherapy patients, Lamb says.
Lamb plays Heidi, a dancer in the Kit Kat Klub. She believes the task of the Kit Kat Girls is to provide a commentary on what’s going on in the play through the edgy and engaging song and dance.
The Villanova Theatre opens its spring season musical, “Cabaret,” with a guarantee to produce a vibe unmatched by many musicals recently produced by Villanova Theatre.
“It’s quite a spectacle in an intimate setting like Vasey Theatre,” says Matthew Clay, actor and undergraduate philosophy major at Villanova.
The patrons of the Kit Kat Klub remain present during all scenes of the show, some involving the performances in the club itself, others more intimate interactions between zany residents of Berlin who are linked by the club. Musical interludes by the Kit Kat Girls expose messages underlying the plot lines of the lead characters.
The integration of the club with other locations functions to marry the audience to the stage, Joyce says. Like the recent Broadway revival, there are very few lighting and scene changes, which employ the same space for nightclub scenes and personal scenes and create a connection between the characters.
Like Lamb, Clay also sports a different look, but one that has more of a mental impact. He plays a cast of characters himself, including Herman, a member of the Kit Kat Klub, a sailor and even a uniformed Nazi for a brief moment.
“It feels strange to put on that costume,” Clay admits. “It’s accurate enough that it’s eerie right down to the boots to the patch on the arm.”
“This is not your typical happy-go-lucky musical,” Lamb says.
Joyce also attests to “something very dark and sinister” within the confines of what she finds to be a very well-written show with amazing characters.
Although the opening act is described by Joyce as “colorful and exciting,” deeper themes are revealed as the play unfolds, and intolerance begins to infiltrate the world of the decadent cabaret.
This is an altogether different experience which honors the people whose story we are telling, explains Joyce. Don’t expect your traditional musical ending with the two beautiful ingénues living happily ever after, she warns.
The musical itself was written by the same American composer and lyricist team as popular musical “Chicago,” John Kander and Fred Ebb, and produces a musical similar in its strong engagement of show business and the reality of the characters’ lives.
Joe Masteroff is responsible for adapting the autobiographical book “The Berlin Stories” by Christopher Isherwood into a script in 1966. Most of the characters are based on real people in a setting much like the author experienced himself in pre-war Germany, 1929.
Joyce believes “Cabaret” to be a story about presence and absence. As you watch the story unfold on Vasey’s stage and experience the glitz and sexual fever, take note to watch the decadence seep out of the performance. What audiences are left with is not only entertainment, but a strong attitude of those based-on-life characters.
“The choices [the characters] make are based in fear,” Joyce ruminates. Audiences are sure to notice the loss that is a result of that, she explains. As female lead Sally Bowles sings,”Life is a cabaret, old chum, life is a cabaret.”
Stronger themes underlie this historically rich text, and director Joyce and her cast and crew have dedicated themselves to singing it loud and clear.