by Director’s Marybeth Clark and Justin Tyler Lewis
Readers and audiences around the world know Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends – Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, and all the others – from a huge variety of sources. Originally published in 1926, A.A. Milne’s stories have been interpreted and reinterpreted in so many ways and for so many generations that keeping all of the versions straight is sometimes difficult. The common thread through the various adaptations, however, is the idea of friendship and the tie that is shared between friends. What brings the Hundred Acre Wood to life is Christopher Robin’s relationship with his toys and their connection to each other. This theme of the unbreakable bond of friendship drives our production of Winnie-the-Pooh.
The challenge with any classic, familiar tale is how to breathe new life into characters that every audience member has seen in multiple forms. Can you imagine imitating Winnie’s laugh or Owl’s sonorous voice? And, in fact, those standards may not serve our production, our cast, our theatre, or our audience. To address this challenge, we have looked at the Hundred Acre Wood and its inhabitants through the eyes of a child. Pooh Bear’s world is the world that Christopher Robin has created for him; and it’s the world that we have all created at some point in our own imaginations.
Creating this world has been a tremendous challenge and an enlivening learning experience. For everyone from the all-student cast to the assistant director to the stage management staff and even the veteran director, putting the elements of the Hundred Acre Wood and those memorable characters on the stage has been a wonderful way to say goodbye to our 32nd season here at Charleston Stage.
Q: What is it like to watch your child grow and mature within the side lines of Charleston Stage?
A: I’m Tom Hill’s mother Maribeth (the other Marybeth). Tom has been acting with Charleston Stage since he was 5 years old and every year and every performance is nothing like the last. Miss Marybeth (as he calls her) is just incredible. If she says it, its the law. To watch him mature and have the self confidence is so rewarding. He is so excited to be Winnie-the-Pooh. He is the perfect person to have captured that carefree…no bother…always thinking attitude. The picture of him says a thousand words. Even as a young toddler he was a pooh fan. Tom, you are the Winnie-the-Pooh that everyone wants on their heart!
In the original production of Cabaret the legendary Austrian actress and singer, Lotte Lenya played my part. Lenya was the wife of Kurt Weil and had appeared in his classic Three Penny Opera, winning a Tony Award when it was later presented on Broadway. Since many of Fraulein Schneider’s songs sound very much like the music of Kurt Weil, it was an appropriate choice. Weil had made a name for himself with his dark and brooding musicals and indeed the songs I have in this show are not traditional fluffy showtunes—far from it, they are hard hitting, passionate and often dark and brooding. In many ways Weil’s influence on American Musicals (he was a refugee himself from Nazi Germany) was enormous bringing realism and naturalism to this traditional American form. There’s no doubt that Kander and Ebb were influenced by Weil and gave Fraulein Schneider some of the most haunting moments and music in the show.
by Michael Christensen, Charleston Stage Property Master
Part of the fun of being a Property Master is looking for just the right prop for a show. The Kit Kat nightclub described in Cabaret had telephones on each table so that customers could dial up the cute guy or gal and invite them to join them at their table. We could have just gone into our prop closet and found some phones to use, but because the phones were such an important element in the design, we decided to research German and European phones and we came across this stunning period design from Sweden—not exactly Berlin, but close enough. Not only is the design of this phone elegant and unusual, it is tall which will make it stand out on the cabaret tables. And so I went to work to reproduce this look in our scene shop and the result you’ll see in the second photo below—which I hope when you see the show, you will agree, is the perfect prop for this scene.
With Joel Grey and most recently Alan Cummings fingerprints all over the iconic role of the Emcee in Cabaret I had my hands full in creating my own take on this landmark role. Oddly I am front and center for most of the musical numbers but never really interact with the main characters—it’s clear my role is symbolic representing the decadence of Berlin Café society but one can’t play a symbol. I’m a showman in a very decadent era and since there was a lot of decadence in the air I’m sure the MC had to really work hard to be more outrageous than anyone else. Before there was such a thing he was a performance artist (think Lady Gaga) and sought to shock with outrageous costumes, makeup (on a man!), cross dressing, even dancing with a guerilla at one point. Knowing he was prepared to break a lot of boundaries allowed me (with guidance from my director of course) to be boundless in my performances as well.
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.
By Carol Furtwangler, Post and Courier Reviewer, Friday April 9, 2010
“Brilliantly Directed . . . Not a Character was less than ideally realized . . .not a voice less than outstanding . . .”
When a theater company attempts a show as familiar and popular as ‘Cabaret’ that company had better make a Big Splash.
That is exactly what Marybeth Clark did, brilliantly directing a dozen multitalented dancers and a leading cast of six of the most effective performers ever seen in Charleston.
Charleston Stage’s latest singin’ and dancin’ extravaganza proved a showcase for every element of stagecraft. Barbara Young’s glitzy and funky costumes, Julian Wiles’ lighting, and Stefanie Christensen’s scenic design all caught the spirit of 1930’s Berlin, degenerate, decadent, its populace indulging in all manner of sin, as the Weimar Republic faded and the Nazi party rose to power.
Not a character was less than ideally realized, and not a voice was other than outstanding. Musical director Amanda Wansa and her six-piece orchestra were consummate professionals. Brian J. Porter made the Emcee’s role his own, sashaying about in purple leather pants and oh, the shoes. Justin Tyler Lewis made an endearing Cliff, while Sarah Claire Smith’s rendition of Sally Bowles was spot-on. Kyle Barnett played a friendly turned-menacing-Ernst, while Jan Gilbert as Fraulein Schneider showed her excellent grasp of comedy and drama. Demetre Homer as Herr Schultz evidenced the calm of the Jews before the horror of the Final Solution.
Charleston Stage’s last Mainstage production at the Sottile is well worth your support.
It’s not often in a musical one gets to play a character based on a real person but there’s little doubt that Cliff is really Christopher Isherwood – the real life author who went to sample the decadence of Berlin nightlife in the 1920’s.His Berlin Stories captured not just the story of a young author but an entire age when, as he says, “the world was coming to an end.”Thanks to Isherwood we see how people turned their heads not seeing – or not wanting to see – the nightmare unfolding before them.In one of his stories Cliff says of himself, “I am a camera,” and one of the challenges is to play Cliff as a young man who doesn’t know how the dream (or nightmare) will end. And one who is eager to explore the freewheeling sexual world of Berlin nightlife in the 1920’s—a world that excites and repulses him at the same time.
We’re taught as actors to “be in the moment” – to discover things as if they’re happening for the first time.Because we, the performers, know how this story turns out, playing each moment is key to making it real and alive each night onstage.When Cliff meets Sally for the first time, he doesn’t know where their interaction and relationship is leading. Moreover, Sarah Claire and I have to play it as if there are many possibilities of where it might lead.And that’s the fun of it. Few people live their lives in a constant, general wash of woe, misery, or tragedy. Few interesting people, at least. Rather, people live their lives from one tiny moment of joy to the next. Cliff, therefore, lives for the jolts of happiness that punctuate the sometimes tragic and often shocking events that take place in 1920s Berlin. Ultimately, that punctuation marks Cliff as both interesting and memorable and makes his story worth telling.
by Sarah Claire Smith, Sally Bowles in Charleston Stage’s Cabaret
These great actresses who have all played Sally Bowles cast long shadows.But I learned early on in my career that one can’t copy another, no matter how amazing their performance.One can look at the performances of these three great Sally’s (you can find clips on the internet) and see all three created totally different takes on this great character.While I’m honored to perform a role played by some of the theatre greats, I know their great Sally’s came from within themselves and that’s what I set out to discover . . . As I began to study the role, the actual script of “Cabaret” , the play “I am a Camera” and “Berlin Stories” I found that there are certain characteristics about Sally Bowles that are set in stone. I went through the play and wrote down all the things that were said about Sally and the things Sally said about herself. These observations were quite enlightening. Sally desires to be fascinating, mysterious, ravishing, and sublimely seductive. She describes herself as a strange and extraordinary person. I quite agree. She paints her fingernails green, talks quite frankly about men and sexuality, and lives life as if she was onstage at all moments. Some of these behaviors come from a need to shock people to remove attention from her reality. When Cliff asks her about herself she clams up. Letting people in to the true Sally is something that almost never happens. She has created a character on top of herself and lives it quite convincingly. But there is more to this shocking gal, much more. Behind those green fingernails is a scared little girl who has dreams outside of her reality. Also within her is the ultimate desire to be on the stage. I can relate to that. There is something magical and “beautiful” about the theatre, or the Cabaret in Sally’s case. But in the end does the life in the Cabaret treat her well? …You will just have to come as see what becomes of Miss Sally Bowles.
Acting is one of my personal favorite things. To truly get to know a character, inside and out. To take on another person’s skin, fears, and joy – It’s a gift. Each actor brings something different and unique to a role just as each person brings their own unique life experience to their everyday life. I come from a different life experience than Sally, but I think it makes it even more exciting to play her. My goal is to bring the most honest, specific, and alive Sally I possibly can to that stage every night.
By Amanda Wansa, Charleston Stage Resident Music Director
I am very excited to be working on this show. I Assistant Music Directed it in the summer of 2007 and appeared in it as (don’t laugh) a kit kat boy, and was thrilled to do the show every night. Most of the musicals of 1966, the year Cabaret appeared, were pretty lightweight . . . they included It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman! and On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, but Kander and Ebb had other things in mind.They created a musical that not only told a serious story, one based on real events but they also chose a unique structure for this groundbreaking musical mixing realistic scenes with cabaret scenes.Kander’s score is unique, while it contains one of the great showstoppers of all time “Cabaret” many other songs are really musical scenes, where the show doesn’t stop for a song, the songs are woven into the play itself. At the time it was a bold experiment but one that paid off giving us one of the most unique and most moving musicals ever. I have the privilege of being able to hire a fantastic LIVE BAND, comprised of a trumpet (Dan Bellack), trombone (Billy McSweeney), bass (John Kennedy), drums (Brian Widlowski), reed (Jack Pettit – playing not one, but TWO saxophones and a clarinet), and pianist (Alex Hennessey). I will conduct in the pit and play 2nd keyboard, also known as the “synth.” Audiences may recognize the skill of John on bass and Brian on drums from this year’s Joseph…Dreamcoat. Our orchestra is comprised of very talented musicians, all skilled in pit music as well as jazz, so I can guarantee some creative flair from time to time that audiences haven’t heard on recordings of the show or in other productions!
The music of Cabaret is exciting because of its range. We have fast-paced, show-stopping dance numbers like “Money,” “Don’t Tell Mama” and “The Telephone Dance”, sexy jazz numbers like “I Don’t Care Much” and “Willkommen”, and heart-warming ballads like “Married” and “Don’t Go.” This show presents thought-provoking situations with both humor and serious consideration. The musical underscoring of the scenes adds to the story, and, as I play live piano for rehearsals, I’m reminded each day how smart Kander and Ebb’s score really is. I think audiences are going to love the return of a live orchestra and all the pizazz and punch that it will bring to Marybeth Clark’s wonderful direction, Julian Wiles’s innovative design, and all of the actors’ passion. Come to the Cabaret!!