Come join the Cabaret
February 19, 2008
Central to director Terence Goodman’s vision for his production of "Cabaret" is the question posed by British chanteuse Sally Bowles, the musical’s sensual female lead. Entrenched in Germany’s bawdy nightlife in 1929, right before the Nazi party’s power overwhelms the country, she asks, "Politics — what has that got to do with us?"
For Goodman? Everything.
"I feel, as an artist, if you have your opportunity to say something you feel strongly about, you should take your shot at it, and that’s what I’m doing with ‘Cabaret,’" he explains, "because I think it’s our duty as artists to use the theater as a springboard for ideas, a springboard for arguments it’s been that way since the Greeks Theater is politics, it always has been."
By way of example, Goodman notes "Urinetown, The Musical" is about water rights and the "The Full Monty" is about labor disputes. Along the same lines, he says "Cabaret," which opens at the Egyptian Theatre Friday, is a show that, in spite of its ability to entertain audiences through song, dance and its bawdy burlesque humor, possesses a deeper message.
"It’s not a heavy political piece, but there’s an underlying current that talks about the political problems of Germany and how the Nazis came to power and how insidious it was. I think the Germans thought, ‘Well, we’ll let this little party the Nazis get rid of the Communists and then we’ll deal with the Nazis,’ and that got the country into all sorts of issues," he says.
Goodman says he particularly liked the idea of "Cabaret," because he found its story paralleled the United States in the 21st century.
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"It’s not so different in America now, where I think in the last eight years we as a people have had a tendency to look the other way and protect our own lifestyles," he argues. "In a very light way, with this production, I’m not forgetting: Politics it has a lot to do with us and we need to pay attention."
For Goodman, hired onto the Egyptian Theatre Company’s staff midseason last year, "Cabaret" marks the beginning of his reign as artistic director. It is the first production he hand-picked, and one that he hopes will set the tone for seasons to come.
"I chose this show because I wanted to offer a piece to Utah actors that had real drama to it, that wasn’t fluff," he explains. "I mean, I like fluff as much as the next guy and we have a lot of fluff coming up this season but occasionally, our audiences deserve the respect of seeing something that’s thought-provoking, something challenging I want to start a new era here and a new way of doing productions here that are more grown up, more adult and give us a little more cake than frosting."
The set is machine-like and sparse, reflecting Goodman’s more serious tone, and the cold, post-World War I destitution of the Weimar Republic, the era between 1919 and 1933, during which the story of "Cabaret" takes place. The backdrop is a magnified newspaper full of bold headlines.
Goodman is directing the show in a style he calls "Brechtian," inspired by the 1930s German playwright, Bertolt Brecht, Goodman explains the cast will be exposed to the audience before entering the action of a scene and upon exiting. "We don’t try to mask anything," he explains. "It’s bare-bones."
Instead, the emphasis of the upcoming production of "Cabaret" is on the story of star-crossed lovers Sally Bowles and American writer Clifford Bradshaw, and the decadent, seedy cabaret in Berlin called the Kit Kat Klub with its singers, patrons and its master of ceremonies, the Emcee, so desperate to survive, says Goodman.
A veteran of stage, film and television for three decades, Goodman set the bar high for his actors.
"I give actors eight weeks between casting and the first rehearsal, so that by the time we rehearse, they’re off book, so we’re not wasting time with memorization," he says. "What I’ve seen here and in Salt Lake is that actors are just ready by opening night. You can see it in the tension of their bodies. I want my actors, if anything, to be over-rehearsed. I want them walking on stage as well-rounded, three-dimensional characters."
And Goodman says he has not been disappointed. His actors have risen to the occasion, many braving February’s white-out snowstorms on I-80 to make rehearsals.
"We’ve had some scary nights up the canyon," confesses Ginger Bess, who plays Sally Bowles. "I mean, I’ve had moments traveling in my car where I’ve said to myself, ‘I must love this job, because I’m still driving’ But we never had to cancel a rehearsal."
Bess, whom Goodman dubs as "one of the best voices in the state," returns to the Egyptian after playing Tommy’s mother in the musical "Tommy." In this production she is reunited with Christopher Glade, the actor who plays the flamboyant Emcee in "Cabaret." The two starred in the Egyptian Theatre Company’s 2005 production of "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Both are well-aware of the challenges of the show, which took home 10 Tony Awards in 1967, and the legacy of the 1972 film starring Liza Minelli. Both saw the 1998 revival of "Cabaret" at Studio 54 in New York City.
"As an actor, you always have those five or six roles you have in the back of your head you want to do," Glade reflects, "and this is a show I’ve always wanted to do and this role more than anything else the freedom as an actor is almost frightening. And I’m not alone. The auditions for this musical were a who’s-who in Utah theatre. This kind of a show is very rare here. People were excited about it. The show is such an icon."
Glade says Goodman’s enthusiasm is apparent, too.
"You can tell he’s owning this because it’s his choice and he’s got his stamp on everything," he observes. "You can sense his excitement that it’s his game, now."
See ‘Cabaret’ at the Egyptian Theatre
What: The Egyptian Theatre Company’s Production of "Cabaret"
Where: The Egyptian Theatre at 328 Main St.
When: Friday, Feb. 22, "Cabaret" will open at 8 p.m. All other performances will begin at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, through April 5.
Tickets: "Cabaret" Tickets range from $18 to $45 with Cabaret tables available and are available at ParkCityShows.com or (435) 649-9371. For more information, visit egyptiantheatrecompany.org.
Rating: Egyptian Theatre Company Artistic Director Terence Goodman rates "Cabaret" a PG-13 for its sexual innuendo.
"Cabernet at the Cabaret" will take place Feb. 27 through 29, featuring Zev Rovine, the Spotted Frog Bookstor’s sommelier, who will educate audiences one hour before show time about war and the wines of the time period of the Nazi Regime. Tickets $50 each night of the Cabaret and Cabernet event.