Creative Arts Center | Photo by Arden Reimer | The Wright State Guardian
Focusing on the journey of an idealistic American aspiring author exploring the unsavory nightlife of Berlin during the rise of Nazism, Wright State University presents “Cabaret” in the theatre’s own unique style as told by the cast and artistic director.
Storyline and themes
As the second Festival Playhouse production in the 2023-2024 season, “Cabaret” follows the light-hearted play “The Liar.” Despite the dichotomy between the works, both demonstrate the refreshing versatility of WSU theatre.
While “Cabaret” was selected to be a WSU theater production just a year ago, it presents a century-old tale based on the book by Joe Masteroff and the play by John Van Druten.
Starting out as a spicy yet fun rendition of cabaret nightlife during the late 1920s and early 1930s in Berlin, Germany, the plot devolves into an exploration of the rise of German fascism and the daily lives of those caught up in it.
Director Greg Hellems is a professor and head of musical theater at WSU. Hellems said that while the show is 60 years old, its storyline and themes are still relevant today.
“Through its mix of entertainment and seduction, the show dives into a deep tangle of political and social issues, all set to song and dance. Although each revival of the show has changed conceptually, the fundamental impact of the message and story have remained intact,” Hellems wrote in his director’s note.
Presented by the exceptional cast and crew of WSU theater, musical numbers include titles such as “Don’t Tell Mama,” “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” “What Would You Do?” and “Money,” which shows off a unique lighting trick in the WSU production.
Musical director and voice instructor Wade Russo, along with award-winning choreographer and instructor Ashley Pabst, worked to bring the music to life.
These musical acts performed by 22 cast members were made possible by the 20 members of the production staff and 11 members of the run crew.
All in all, more than 53 people, with countless support from others at WSU, made “Cabaret” directly come to life.
Behind the scenes
First-year WSU Artistic Director Marya Spring Cordes is one such individual particularly enjoying the collaborative nature of being an artistic director. Cordes is also the associate chair of the School of Fine and Performing Arts and a professor in acting and musical theater.
Cordes reflected on why “Cabaret” is so important to show a modern audience.
“The story unfortunately seems current and relevant to today. Of course, when we selected the pieces that landed on our season, we had no idea what would unfold in the Gaza Strip right before we opened, but the unfortunateness of the world playing out in front of us as being the same brings this production into a completely relevant moment,” Cordes said.
Preparation is the key to success
Such a poignant show requires great preparation. The cast traditionally rehearsed Monday through Friday from 6 to 11 p.m.
Jeremy Floyd, an Associate Professor of Costume Design at Northern Illinois University, is the costume designer, taking a research-based approach to the “Cabaret” costume design. Deborah Thomas provided dialect coaching for the German accents, critical to an authentic performance of “Cabaret.”
Senior musical theater major Anderson Rothwell played the eccentric Emcee, Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub. Rothwell describes Emcee as a character as “captivating” and the role as “ambiguous,” as everyone from the actor to the audience is likely to have different ideas about who Emcee is and what they represent.
While Emcee may appear effortless on stage, the high-energy character took a lot to prepare for.
“This role is physically, vocally and emotionally demanding. I’ve been fantasizing about playing this role for years, so a lot of the preparation happened between me and my imagination. I also spent plenty of time studying authentic cabaret performers from the time, learning about the social and political climate of Berlin in the late 1920s and mastering my German accent,” Rothwell said.
The performances would not have been possible without those backstage. With one step inside the Festival Playhouse in the Creative Arts Center, one is instantly transported into the fictional German Kit Kat Club from 100 years ago.
Immersive set design
Two tables reminiscent of an actual cabaret flank the “catwalk” that protrudes from the center stage, allowing actors to sing to the audience as if they were actual cabaret patrons illuminated by antique-style lights lining the outer stage.
On the stage is the ‘jungle gym’ of the Kit Kat Klub, a climbable metal structure to add depth and authenticity to the performance. Tucked centrally inside the structure is the live orchestra, providing a dramatic flair to the already saucy story.
Michael Brewer is the set designer for this year’s show, also responsible for the set design of “The Liar.”
Looking behind, looking ahead
“Let’s go out there and make the world a different place. Let’s not repeat history. Let’s look at the world now as it is and say, ‘I see you, let’s not do that again,’” Cordes said, commenting on what they want the audience to come away with.
Future Festival Productions include “By the Bog of Cats” and “Spelling Bee.” The Herbst Theatre presents “A Doll’s House” starting in February.
The show continues to run every weekend through Nov. 19. Tickets can still be purchased here.