6th Street Playhouse says welcome to the ‘Cabaret’
“Cabaret” is set in Berlin in 1931. The musical premiered in 1966, and the movie, directed by Bob Fosse and starring Liza Minnelli as the wanton and devil-may-care club singer Sally Bowles, came out in 1972.
That’s 50 years ago. So, should we say the show is dated?
Absolutely not, said director Jared Sakren, whose production of “Cabaret” opens Sept. 16 at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse, where he is also artistic director.
Germany in 1931 was a volatile place. The German mark collapsed that summer, and the banks closed in July. The Nazi party had been around since the 1920s and grew in popularity to win 18% of the vote in the country’s parliamentary elections in September 1930.
By 1933, Adolph Hitler would be appointed chancellor. World War II started in 1939 with his invasion of Poland.
It was a time of bitter division along political, economic, racial and ethnic lines, not unlike some of what we see today, Sakren said.
“You have a lot of press now talking about things like the rise of fascism, and people vilifying specific groups. That seems to be a trend, so the musical is very relevant right now,” the director said.
“It is really about the unseen rise of Nazism, although that’s not apparent at the beginning,” he said. “Other than that, it is a pure musical.”
In other words, don’t expect some topical lecture in theatrical form.
“The other side of that is that it’s really entertaining, with great music and dancing,” Sakren said.
Napa actress Erin Rose Solorio, who plays saucy cabaret singer Sally Bowles, sees the show as dazzling entertainment set within a serious context.
“The story is relevant today, in the way that people can be unaware the world is incredibly dangerous. People ignore the issues and think it’s OK unless it affects them,” she said.
As the enigmatic and somewhat sinister emcee of the play’s Kit Kat Club, portrayed in this production by Michael Strelo-Smith, points out, inside the cabaret “everything is beautiful.” But there’s always a stimulating, even titillating, sense of menace hovering outside.
“Inside the cabaret, you’re escaping the outside world,” Sakren said. “But escapism only lasts so long.”
Bowles is presented in a somewhat more serious light onstage, he said.
“Sally was cleaned up for the movies,” Sakren said. “She is played as a happy-go-lucky show biz character. The movie is not the musical. The modern productions of the musical have focused more on the trauma and drama of her life. She drinks nonstop. She burns the candle at both ends.”
While preparing for the role, Solorio researched the real-life inspiration for Bowles. The musical is based on John Van Druten’s 1951 play, “I Am a Camera,” which in turn was adapted from “Goodbye to Berlin” from 1939, a semi-autobiographical novel by English-American writer Christopher Isherwood.
In the 6th Street Playhouse production, Damion Matthews co-stars as Clifford Bradshaw, the musical’s version of Isherwood.
Isherwood drew on his experiences in the poverty-stricken Weimar Republic just before the rise of Nazi Germany, and his intimate friendship with 19-year-old cabaret singer Jean Ross.
“For the character of Sally Bowles, I looked into the person she’s based on,” Solario said. “I am trying to make the character my own.”
Ross didn’t like the way she was portrayed, Solario said. For one thing, Ross was not indifferent to politics, as Sally is.
The original stage version also focused on the issue of antisemitism, particularly through the romance between Fraulein Schneider and Jewish fruit-shop owner Herr Schultz, played in this production by Ginger Beaver and longtime local actor Dwayne Stincelli.
“In the movie, the whole Herr Schultz subplot is gone,” Sakren said.
The Santa Rosa production differs from the movie in other ways. While film director Bob Fosse’s distinctive choreography is definitely an influence, Devin Parker Sullivan, choreographer for the 6th Street Playhouse production, is not aping all the original moves, Sakren said.
“We’re not repeating everything Fosse did, but we’re using his body language,” Sakren said.
“We also have a small orchestra of eight musicians,” he said, “and they’re onstage the whole time and do some interacting with the rest of the cast.”
The production’s musical director is Nate Riebili.
“The artistic team very much does not want to do the same old ‘Cabaret,’” Sakren said. “We want to put our fresh take on it. But for the people coming to see it, you’ll get the full ‘Cabaret’ experience. The attitude, the sexiness and the bold exploration of the hedonistic world are still all there.”
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.
Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat
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