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Julian Wiles, Founder and Producing Artistic Director
Marybeth Clark, Associate Artistic Director

April 13, 2010

Directing Cabaret, The Play’s the Thing

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 10:57 am

by Associate Artistic Director Marybeth Clark

      When someone mentions the musical Cabaret, their first response is usually, “Oh, Liza Minnelli right?”  I have to admit I was not that familiar with the show myself when I first saw it several years ago.

      A young actor, who was in Charleston Stage’s production of Glass Menagerie, was cast in a touring production of Cabaret at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center.  It was a Tuesday night and I had been working on a series of school shows in the morning and classes all afternoon.  By the time I arrived at the theatre, I was thinking I might sneak away after Act One.  That didn’t happen.  After the final scene of Act One, I was sitting stunned in the audience thinking, “What just happened?!” and “Why don’t I know about this show?”

      In preparing for this production, I wanted to learn even more about the stories and the era that molded this remarkable script.  Cabaret is based on the 1951 play I Am a Camera by John van Druten inspired by Christopher Isherwood’s book The Berlin Stories.  Reading Isherwood’s stories reminded me a bit of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  At age 24, Isherwood, who had attended British prep schools and Cambridge, set out to teach English for a short time in Berlin.  He stayed several years.  Through his stories, the reader travels ‘through the looking glass’ along with Isherwood to the decadence of the waning Weimar Republic Berlin.  The sexual freedom, glittering parties and scintillating adventures he experiences are far from Isherwood’s pastoral childhood as the son of a British army officer.

      A theme that became very important to me in creating Charleston Stage’s Cabaret was the idea that the cabaret performers manufacture their own reality in the midst of political unrest.  Throughout the show, there are characters that understand what is happening politically and those who simply refuse to believe anything will really change.  At one point Cliff says to Sally, “Some day, I’ve got to sit you down and read you a newspaper.  You’ll be amazed at what’s going on.”  Sally’s response is dismissive, “You mean—politics? But what has that to do with us?”

      Eventually, of course the Nazi party’s rise to power becomes impossible to ignore and everyone is forced to deal with it.  I hope Cabaret offers you a glimpse into a different world in a different time that was not so very long ago. 

TwoLadies

From left to right: Charleston Stage Resident Actor Christopher M. Diaz as Kit Kat Dancer, Brian J. Porter as Emcee, and Jacqueline Kirchhoff as Kit Kat Dancer.

 

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