'Cabaret' gets new staging
Cabaret. It's a word that trips lightly off the tongue, resonant with gaiety, verve and a touch of decadence.
The first cabaret, an entertainment form showcasing comedy, song, dance and theatre, not to mention the venue itself, is said to have debuted in Paris in 1881, wherein Rodolphe Salis' "cabaret artistique," quickly renamed Le Chat Noir, became renowned as a place where up-and-coming artists could ply their trade. The pinnacle of cabaret was the Moulin Rouge and Folies-Bergere, not to forget Le Lido, where such luminaries as Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward performed.
But perhaps most have become acquainted with it through pop culture, namely the inaugural 1966 Broadway production of "Cabaret" directed by Hal Prince, the influential 1972 movie of the same name helmed by Bob Fosse and, more recently, the 1998 revival by Sam Mendes.
Enter Charleston Stage, which closes its season with a performance at the College of Charleston's Sottile Theatre. Opening Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., "Cabaret" runs through April 18.
"In that same theater tradition of reimagining a work for each production, we're approaching Charleston Stage's staging of 'Cabaret' with a new eye," says Marybeth Clark, associate artistic director of
Charleston Stage and director of the production.
"I think that most people don't realize that 'Cabaret' is based on a real story. There was a real Sally Bowles (real name, Jean Ross) and other characters and scenes were based on real events as well," she says.
So Clark and Co. ventured back to the original source material, the play "I Am a Camera" by John Van Druten and the work that inspired it, Christopher Isherwood's short-story collection "Goodbye to Berlin."
The latter chronicled Isherwood's life in the "anything goes" cabaret swirl of 1920s Berlin. Isherwood captured this raucous realm as well, or better, than anyone, and the stories provided Charleston Stage with much of the insight for their show.
Sarah Claire Smith embodies the pivotal role of Bowles, with Justin Lewis as Cliff (a character based on Isherwood) and Brian J. Porter as the Emcee. Also starring are Kyle W. Barnette, Jan Gilbert and Demetre Homer.
Lindsey Lamb, who choreographed the dance sequences, does double duty as a Kit Kat dancer.
"The structure of 'Cabaret,' with night club numbers interspersed with real-world scenes, is part of the special magic of this legendary show and we have made an effort to focus on the contrasts between these two worlds," Clark says.
"Sets for the outside world, designed by Julian Wiles and Stefanie Christensen, are super-realistic while the sets for the escapist Kit Kat Club are much more dreamlike and fantastical," she says.
Clark worked closely with resident costume designer Barbara Young to fashion a special look for the Kit Kat Club dancers, with a heightened emphasis on the "fantastic, exotic, and colorful," employing the more sensual style of 1920's cabaret costumes from Europe.
"We also made an effort to give each Kit Kat girl a unique look rather than costuming them all alike so they didn't look like a chorus line. ... I can't wait for audiences to see what's been dreamed up."
Clark adds that she tells the actors to ignore the film and other productions of "Cabaret," the better to discover the characters for themselves and lend their performances a measure of freshness.
Accompanying the performers, courtesy of musical director Amanda Wansa, is a live seven-piece orchestra.
Reach Bill Thompson at email@example.com or 937-5707