BWW Interviews: CABARET to Offer a History Lesson as Well as a Musical
The 18-member cast of Weathervane Playhouse's CABARET signed up to be in a musical but got a history course in pre-World War II Germany to go along with it.
Director Adam Karsten believes it's important for his cast to understand the events and attitudes that lead up to the setting of CABARET so they can better convey that to the audience. The show opens 8 p.m. May 29 at the Newark-based theater.
"We have been doing a lot of research. Not only are we looking at the time period when the play takes place, we are looking at the events before that," says Karsten, the Playhouse's artistic director. "I want them to have an understanding of what it was like back then.
"We've been looking what was happening in Berlin at the beginning of the World War I, the Versailles Treaty and everything that lead up to the time period."
The 1967 Broadway musical is set in 1931 Berlin where the Nazis are rising into power in Germany. Young British cabaret singer Sally Bowles (played by Mary Mondlock in the Playhouse production) falls in love with an American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Reed Worth). In a subplot, Fraulein Schneider (Ellie Unger) is debating should she marry Herr Schultz (Dennis Kohler), a Jewish fruit vendor. The Emcee (Josh Meredith), the master of ceremonies at the notorious Kit Kat club, serves as a narrator for the action.
The musical, which won eight Tony Awards in 1967, features the songs "Willkommen," "The Telephone Song," and of course, "Cabaret." It was a star-making vehicle for Liza Minnelli and Joel Gray in the 1972 movie.
"We're trying to create inside the theater a feeling that isn't just conveyed by the actors, but to be experienced in some degree by members of the audience." Karsten says. "I always believed that theater can have that kind of a connection with its audience. We want to have the audience leave the theater with something to discuss whether it is social, political or entertainment value."
Karsten believes he has the kind of cast that can pull that ambiance off, starting with Sally Bowles.
"We looked long and hard for our Sally," Karsten says. "We looked all over Ohio and the country for Mary. She really brings something new to the role."
The show also features some familiar faces. Kohler, who has done close 100 shows with Weathervane, and Unger are Weathervane veterans. Meredith was Thenardier in the winter production of LES MISERABLES.
Rounding out the rest of the cast are Patrick Clements (Ernst Ludwig), Alexandra Milbrath (Fraulein Kost), Wood Van Meter (Bobby), Brad Johnson (Herman) and Caylie Newcom, Kaitlyn Herbst, Eileen Janesz, Emily Crawford, Abigail Morris, Gena Loe, Marisa Riegle and Katie Post as the Kit-Kat girls.
While many people focus on the relationship between Bowles and Bradshaw, Karsten says one of the highlights of the show for him is the subplot romance between Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. He hopes by the time Schneider reaches her emotional peak in the song "What Would You Do?" the audience will be able to answer the question.
"During her last song Schneider is beginning to understand what it would mean to marry a Jewish man. She turns to Sally and Cliff and asks 'What would you do?'" Karsten says. "That's the question I am going to ask the audience.
"I think it's a great debating platform. You think about all the experiences that happened during that time. It's too easy to say (the rise of the Nazi party) is all the Germans' fault. We are all part of this world. This feelings and emotions of this story are still relevant in today's society."
The Weathervane Playhouse will present CABARET 8 p.m. May 29, 30 and 31 and June 3-7 as well as 2 p.m. matinee on May 31. Additionally the show will have two special performances at the historic Granville Inn on June 16 and July 14. For more information on the show, contact the Playhouse at 740-366-4616.