A Broadway Staple Comes To Denver Redefined For Contemporary Audiences

DENVER (CBS4) – The musical “Cabaret” is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and it has gotten a modern day update from Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall.

The Tony Award-winning production is being put on by the Roundabout Theatre Company. “Cabaret” runs Sept. 27 – Oct. 9 at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

LINK: Get Tickets to Roundabout Theatre Company’s “Cabaret” or call 800-641-1222

The musical centers around the Kit Kat Klub, in pre-World War II Germany. The Emcee, main character Sally Bowles and an entire ensemble perform every night, and with music, song, and dance they help the audience leave their troubles outside. There is attraction, social commentary and political intrigue.

“When most people come with an expectation, it’s an expectation from the film. That’s mostly likely the thing that they may have seen but the play itself is different from the movie, just in terms of the material. There’s characters in the play that do not exist in the film, songs in the play that do not exist in the film. The broad strokes remain, but the material takes care of a lot of that for you,” said director, B.T. McNicholl.

Critic at Large Greg Moody said he hadn’t seen “Cabaret” in probably 30 years, stage or screen, so this production of the musical caught him off guard.

“Once you see the Emcee come out looking so very different from Joel Grey (from the film version). He redefines that character for a contemporary audience, and you’re into a new time and place…a new space, new choreography, new ways of seeing these characters,” McNicholl told CBS4.

This “Cabaret” seems faster, darker, more in your face than before. This one goes for the throat.

“It is the thing that people leave the theater with…when they say to me, ‘That ending is just amazing’. And it’s unexpected, and it’s designed to be unexpected. But it’s a sobering ending, and a galvanizing ending. It’s an ending that’s both challenging and unforgettable, and seems true to where the play has already been headed,” McNicholl explained.

Frauline Schneider from Roundabout Theatre's production of "Cabaret" (Credit DCPA) Frauline Schneider from Roundabout Theatre’s production of “Cabaret” (credit: DCPA)

Sally Bowles is a fascinating character, sometimes a tough cookie determined to make it on her own terms, other times petrified of who she is and where she’s headed.

“She is a fun party girl. She’s charismatic and a performer. But she performers in her own life too. Everything is a performance to her,” said Andrea Goss, who plays Sally Bowles in Roundabout Theatre Company’s “Cabaret.”

Goss brings a rich talent and a booming voice to Sally. But just behind that fast-talking confident young woman, you get a sense of a life that’s out of control.

"Don't Tell Mama" from Roundabout Theatre's Production of "Cabaret" (Credit DCPA) “Don’t Tell Mama” from Roundabout Theatre’s Production of “Cabaret” (credit: DCPA)

“Also underneath it all, you realize that she’s this scared naive child, trying to survive in it. And so it’s a really complicated kind of layered role. And it’s such a fun thing to get to explore every night,” Goss told CBS4.

But the real question behind “Cabaret” is will Sally, in the end, survive this story, and what we know will come after.

“She had to do whatever she has to do to survive, and I think it’s admirable of her. And she makes some wrong choices along the way, but we all do. And I think you have to find the humanity in her,” Goss explained.

“I don’t think this Sally would make it. I think she’s incapable. She just thinks the party is going to continue, and she’s not capable of surviving. She’s not strong enough to get out,” said B.T. McNicholl, the director of the show.

In fact, the real Sally, the person she’s based on, a British singer and writer named Jean Ross, did survive. But the fictional Sally? That’s always been a question which the audience gets to decide for themselves.

“Cabaret” takes us into a dark imagining of history that was all too real. In Roundabout Theatre Company’s production, the Emcee is no longer a sprite making fun of the world, but a hellion who is forcing us to face reality.

“Part of the world that Weiner era was that gave rise to the Third Reich was poverty and sex work and that kind of desperation, that was part of the culture. I think that was an important bedrock for why everything happened in Germany, and I think creating that world is a necessary part of telling the story,” said Randy Harrison, who plays the Emcee.

The Emcee in Roundabout Theatre's production of "Cabaret" (Credit DCPA) The Emcee in Roundabout Theatre’s production of “Cabaret” (credit: DCPA)

Harrison’s Emcee is not the Joel Grey Emcee. In the original Broadway version and the movie, Grey’s tuxedoed host was a sprite, luring us gently into the sideways world of the Kit Kat Klub. Harrison’s Emcee is dark, frantic, and in your face.

“He is probably more aware of the political consequences of what’s happening in Germany at the time. But rather than fighting it or escaping it, he turns that rage into commentary, social commentary, satire, and humor. Ultimately he doesn’t end up being able to overcome what happens,” Harrison told CBS4.

RELATED: ‘Cabaret’ Celebrates 250th Performance

“Cabaret”, like most big musicals, may seem calm on stage, but is complete chaos back stage.

Behind the scenes at "Cabaret" (credit: CBS) Behind the scenes at “Cabaret” (credit: CBS)

“What people don’t really know about big musicals when they are sitting out in the house is that, back stage is really where a lot of the effort and sweat comes into play. On stage we sing, and dance, and we act, and we play our instruments, but then we actually run back here and this is our quick change area,” said Alison Ewing, who plays “Fraulein Kost” and the accordion in the show.

Alison Ewing's chair backstage at "Cabaret" (credit: CBS) Alison Ewing’s chair backstage at “Cabaret” (credit: CBS)

“So I am number 7,” she said while indicating a chair with a basket next to it. “And I’ll come back here, and my dresser will be waiting, and I’ll get some water, and throw my clothes into a basket, and put on a change of clothes. All of our clothes travel with us on these rolling costume areas.”

Roundabout Theatre’s production of “Cabaret” is different because the actors are actually the orchestra too.

The orchestra is on-stage and populated by the actors at "Cabaret" (credit: CBS) The orchestra is on-stage and populated by the actors at “Cabaret” (credit: CBS)

“Most musicals don’t actually have the actors playing their instruments, but in this show, we are the orchestra, which makes it very unique to this production of ‘Cabaret’. And that all of the people who are in the show acting on stage, if they’re not on stage then they’re upstairs playing in the band,” Ewing told CBS4.

This production of “Cabaret” is not your grandmother’s version of “Cabaret”.

“This one is more stripped down, seedy, bawdy, gritty. It has a lot of the politics sort of overriding the whole show. It’s darker. It’s edgier,” Ewing said.

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