Life is a “Cabaret” at Barter Theatre, which is bringing the steamy, sexy musical about Sally Bowles and her exploits with love at the Kit Kat Klub in 1931 Berlin to its main stage.
The show opens Sept. 16 and plays in repertory through Nov. 12.
“ ‘Cabaret’ is not only one of the most entertaining musicals, but it also has some of the best music ever written for musical theatre,” said Richard Rose, Barter’s producing artistic director and the director of “Cabaret.” “Barter’s approach to songs like ‘Willkommen,’ ‘Don’t Tell Mama,’ ‘Mein Herr’ and, of course, ‘Cabaret’ is not just a presentation. They bring the audience into the song and dance.”
Based on a book written by Christopher Isherwood, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, the 1966 Broadway production became a hit and spawned a 1972 film as well as numerous subsequent productions.
“If you’ve seen the movie or other productions of ‘Cabaret,’ you still haven’t seen it like this,” Rose said. “Barter Theatre always does it differently.”
Set in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, “Cabaret” focuses on nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub and revolves around the 19-year-old English cabaret performer Sally Bowles, played by Hannah Ingram, and her relationship with the young American writer Cliff Bradshaw, played by Nathan Whitmer, last seen as Gaston in Barter’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
A sub-plot involves the doomed romance between German boarding house owner Fräulein Schneider (Tricia Matthews) and her elderly suitor Herr Schultz (Michael Poisson), a Jewish fruit vend o r.
Overseeing the action is the Master of Ceremonies (Sean Campos) at the Kit Kat Klub, which serves as a constant metaphor for the tenuous and threatening state of late Weimar Germany throughout the show. “As the boss of the Kit Kat Klub, my character interacts with the audience just as if they were in a burlesque nightclub in 1930s Berlin,” Campos said. “The audience becomes part of the show in that regard.” Ingram, who plays Bowles, said audiences will also be drawn into the show through its sensual singing and dancing. “I have never danced choreography quite like this from [costume designer and choreographer] Amanda [Aldridge] or anyone else,” she said. “It is sensual; it is classy and still very sexy.” “The dances, like the songs, are much less presentational and much more intimate, and I believe it will grasp the audience in a completely different way,” Campos added.
That’s because Barter never starts with what has already been done, Aldridge said.
“The design teams begin with the words and the music on the page and let the story inspire us — our philosophy is to present stories in a fresh and new way and always get to the heart of the story,” she said. “I decided each of the numbers by the Kit Kat Klub girls or boys should have a completely different costume — costumes that would match the mood of the song and dance. Each song is layered in subtext, so I wanted both the costumes and choreography to add to that.”
“You never quite know if all the action takes place as an act in the Kit Kat Klub, or if we leave from the club and something real is happening,” Rose added. “There is always that blend between work and play and they cross over. What is real? What is an act? This particular production will explore that in many ways.”
Rose said “Cabaret” also serves as a cautionary tale for today’s indulgent society.
“Like Berlin of 1930, with the fall of the Weimar Republic and the clash of the communist movement and the rise of the Nazi party, we in America today are not beyond these same circumstances,” Rose writes in his director’s notes. “In the fall of 1929 came Black Tuesday in America, which also caused the Great Depression to spread worldwide. Severe economic hardship gripped Europe, in many ways, as it does today. The indulgences of each of these cultures spawned the hardships that followed.
“And like today in America and Europe, what gripped the culture of Berlin in 1930 was an underbelly of indulgence. The flapper era and bootlegging defined American culture in 1930; the underground clubs where almost anything could and did happen were prevalent throughout Europe and particularly in Berlin. It was the age of anything goes. Today in America, it is indulgence in money, drugs, property, computer games, pornography — the list goes on. We have taken the notion of ‘life is a cabaret’ to a whole new meaning where our own individual desires surpass any reality or any need for consideration of the good for society as a whole.”
Tickets to “Cabaret” are $31, $35 and $41. Discount tickets are available with the purchase of a Cabaret Cabernet package for groups of six or more.
For reservations or more information, call (276) 628-3991 or visit www.bartertheatre.com .