Inside the Kit Kat Klub, the Emcee is on stage introducing the cabaret “girls” to the gathered audience: Willkommen to Cabaret!
The fall show, directed by Dr. Patrick Chmel, associate dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts and professor of Fine Arts, takes audience members back in time to a cabaret in Berlin just before the Nazi Party’s rise to power. However, don’t expect this cabaret to be the glamorous version previously seen. Chmel had a very different concept in mind while directing the musical for his second time.
“Our ’94 production was rather glamorous, suggestive of a more posh Berlin cabaret,” he said. “This approach will suggest a different kind of cabaret, a basement ‘fringe’ cabaret with a lot more bite — more decadent, narcotized, less glamorous, more desperate during those incredibly scary times.”
Still, this is Cabaret, and the production includes a costumer, a make-up artist, a choreographer, a music director and a vocal director. The large scale was a much different theater experience for Chmel, who last directed Proof, a four-person, realistic piece.
The story focuses on American writer Cliff Bradshaw (played by freshman David Spadora) and British cabaret dancer Sally Bowles (played by junior Joanne Nosuchinsky). The other main couple, Herr Schultz (played by senior Mike Hollinshead) and Fräulein Schneider (played by junior Rose Lynn), is a contrast because Schultz is a Jew in Nazi-controlled Germany.
“I like [Cabaret] because it’s not a flashy, fun musical,” Hollinshead said. “You’ll leave thinking about it.”
With a week before the show opens, the basics of the play are down and now the actors are fully fleshing out their characters. Hollinshead said he is getting to know Herr Schultz and to better know how he works.
The musical makes no qualms about sex, something that is central to a cabaret. The Kit Kat girls often walk around the stage in lingerie, according to sophomore Nick Anastasia, who plays a Kit Kat boy.
Although the sexuality of the production might make some people uncomfortable, Anastasia believes the roles are getting the cast members to explore themselves as actors. The most difficult part for him was the time period.
“It’s a very different piece because of the time period, the location and the culture,” Anastasia said. “Getting a grasp on that was challenging.”
Both Hollinshead and Anastasia agreed that the costumes are very realistic for the time period. Hollinshead called the Kit Kat girls’ costumes “on the raunchier side, more distorted.”
“It’s not your typical lingerie,” Anastasia said. “It’s gritty, risqué.”
The grand scale of Cabaret was the reason Chmel looked to ’02 graduate John Mintz to play the flamboyant Emcee.
“We do this occasionally with big companies,” Chmel said. “If we think we can welcome back an alum to help us flesh out the talent in the production and from whom our much younger actors might be able to learn, we do [it].”
Cabaret is also the first production of the new School of Fine and Performing Arts. When students tried out for the play, Chmel didn’t look at their majors. It was only after the cast had been announced that he discovered “there was a good mix.”
He said the Westminster and Lawrenceville students have been working very well together.
“We all have the same work ethics,” Chmel said. “Their majors and our majors all come from the same reference, and the same point of view, and the same passion, from the same discipline.”
Lovers of the theater can even become a part of the Kit Kat Klub if they want. There are tables permanently set up on either side of the stage as well as on the floor in front of it. These tables are reserved for audience members.
“We’re turning the theater into a cabaret with some audience involvement,” Chmel said.
He believes audiences will enjoy this Cabaret’s darker feel, as it’s “more truthful” to the time period.
“But still, it’s Cabaret!”
Cabaret opens Saturday, Nov. 8, with additional shows Friday, Nov. 14 and Saturday, Nov. 15. All shows are at 8 p.m.