A play based on a book becomes another play, which becomes an award-winning smash hit. It becomes a movie. Another hit. More awards. A revival on Broadway ensues. More accolades. Life really is a Cabaret, and you can find out why when the JM Drama production of the iconic musical hits the stage next week at the Registry Theatre.
The scene is Berlin – 1931, before the war but with National Socialism on the rise. We’re introduced to the Kit Kat Club, the center of seedy decadence on which the growing tide of Nazism eventually intrudes.
Based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel “Berlin Stories” and John Van Druten’s play I Am a Camera, Cabaret follows an English nightclub singer, an American writer, a German landlady and a Jewish shopkeeper who find their destinies linked and their futures uncertain on the eve of the Third Reich.
First staged in 1966, the story is most closely linked to the 1972 movie starring Liza Minnelli as the young British singer Sally Bowles and Joel Grey as the Emcee. Where the movie skips over the subplots outside the Kit Kat Club, the stage production retains the doomed romance between German boarding house owner Fräulein Schneider and her elderly suitor Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor.
Resolving the differences between the theatrical and movie versions makes for an extra layer of work for director Cheryl Ewing.
“It’s always a bit frightening to do those types of shows where the audience has certain expectations because of the movie versions of the story,” she said, noting the film essentially saw Minnelli become Sally Bowles.
“The stage version is different – this is not the Liza Minnelli Cabaret.”
Of course, there are many parts shared by both versions, including the rousing score that features “Willkommen,” “Maybe This Time,” “Money, Money,” “Don’t Tell Mama” and that familiar title tune, old chum.
The cast JM Drama has assembled have put their own stamp on the performances, the director noted. That includes Oliver Pavia in the role of the Emcee, Laura Harding as Sally Bowles and Brett Roberts as Clifford Bradshaw.
Having selected Cabaret because she “wanted to do something that’s a little edgy,” Ewing said the musical is especially apropos today because of the similarities between the economic and political situations then and now.
“There are parallels to our time. The [musical] gives you a glimpse of how those times impact on the lives of individuals – political movements touch people in a personal way.”
Beyond the message in the play – we see how the rise of Nazism creeps into the characters’ lives – there’s a whole lot of what musicals do best: infectious fun. There’s singing, there’s dancing and there’s laughing.
“We’re having fun doing this, and we want people to have the same experience. We want the audience to come in and be transported for a couple of hours to another time,” she explained.
In the confines of the Registry Theatre, the feeling of being in the Kit Kat Club is easily achieved – some of those attending performances will be right in the thick of it.
“We’re making Cabaret very intimate. The first two rows of seating are cabaret tables, and the audience there is part of the cabaret.”
The JM Drama production of Cabaret runs Aug. 12-14 and Aug. 19-21 at the Registry Theatre, 122 Frederick St., Kitchener. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $18-$22 ($30 for cabaret seating), available at the Centre in the Square box office by calling 578-1570 or toll free 1-800-265-8977 or online at www.centre-square.com.