Ninety-five years ago, a new age of decadence, colour and cynicism — as well as new artistic and individual freedoms and political upheaval — was unleashed by the end of the First World War. It’s an age that has reverberated down through the decades to today.
And there is no work of theatre that has captured this daemonic spirit and the upheavals it foreshadowed than “Cabaret.”
“Cabaret” is the Key City Theatre’s latest musical offering, and set to open on New Year’s Eve, with an extended run later in January. It is directed, as always, by Brenda Burley, produced by Galen Olstead, and features a cast of veterans of Cranbrook’s theatre scene.
”Cabaret” centres around the flamboyant nightlife at the Kit Kat Klub in Berlin, and follows American writer Clifford Bradshaw’s relations with English cabaret performer Sally Bowles. It is a period piece, set in 1929 in the midst of the colourful flamboyant culture of Berlin between the wars, as fascism was on the rise. Even so, as Burley says, there are a lot of themes that are relevant today.
“In the past few years it has been interesting to observe people — good people of integrity and kindness — be swayed by politics or media, and taken down a path that they likely would have believed impossible of themselves,” Burley said in an interview. “A very similar thing happens in ‘Cabaret.’ The play is gritty and raw, but also funny and sexy and outrageous. It’s a fantastic show, well worth directing.”
Most people are familiar with the 1972 Bob Fosse movie, but there are a lot of different elements and depths to the stage production.
In interpreting the work, Burley became fascinated by the character of the EmCee, and what he represents in the story. EmCee is Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Club, an outrageous and flamboyant character.
“In a lot of versions, he is played as a clown or mime, or even a sardonic observer of the madness,” Burley said. “I wanted to go deeper with him and have centred the play around his character. In our version, the EmCee is central to the story, because all of it is a projection of his mind. I have interpreted that he is a prisoner in a concentration camp and every character, every story, every song, is happening in his imagination.
“This theme is reflected starkly in our set design, which is the creation of Hanne Loosen,” Burley said. “She is a professional set designer from Calgary and has created an uniquely artistic setting for our version of Cabaret.”
“Cabaret” will be the fifth straight KCT musical production to mark New Year’s and subsequent January run (notwithstanding that pandemic interruption). The productions have become a New Year’s tradition, and have utilized the resources of a whole reach of Cranbrook’s theatre community.
“I love a good challenge and have tried to take on projects that will help me to learn new skills as a director,” Burley said.
“And more than that, we strive to include more and more people from our community in the productions. There are some very creative folks in our area and these past five productions have helped us to find each other. Both the choreographer, Candice Fisk, and the vocal director, Amanda Casey, started out by auditioning for shows, and becoming part of the ensemble. Their raw talents became apparent and we have tried to find projects that would help them to develop their skills and leadership as well.
“Emma Inman worked as our summer intern at the theatre several years ago. After watching the productions from the box office for a few years, we finally convinced her to try her hand at Stage Management. She knocked it out of the park for ‘9 to 5’ and is back again for ‘Cabaret.’”
But mostly, Burley looks to find projects that will be fun.
“The process of pulling it all together is what matters most for me — we are a community of people who get together to create something wonderful, and become great friends along the way. If we end up with a good show that the audiences enjoy, that is just the cherry on top.”
Cabaret features a stellar cast of local performers. Shannon Edmonstone, Emily Bohmer and Matt Van Boeyen are returning in leading roles. Jim Cameron, Ben Phillips, Brad McCue, Jelena Jensen are joined by a supporting ensemble cast, which, as Burley says, makes up the smallest, but strongest cast she has had the pleasure of working with.
“Cabaret,” with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff, opens December 31 for a special New Year’s Eve gala. The play resumes its run later in the month, January 13-21. Tickets are available at the Key City Theatre box office or online.