Berlin calling

A ‘very Trinity’ take on Cabaret
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  September 15, 2009

 THEATER_Curtis-Cabaret_main

MAKING HIS POINT Columbus (left) in rehearsal for Cabaret. (Photo by MARK TUREK)

If you ask someone whether they've seen Cabaret, odds are the answer will be yes. Ask Curt Columbus, and the answer is likely to be: Which one? Sitting in the upstairs theater of Trinity Repertory Company, where their production runs through October 11, the artistic director rattled off a chronology as lengthy as a convoluted German sentence.

It started off as Goodbye to Berlin, one of the two novels of Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories, became John Van Druten's 1951 play I Am a Camera, which became a film of that name four years later, and also inspired the 1966 Broadway musical Cabaret, which in turn inspired Bob Fosse's 1972 movie Cabaret, which couldn't avoid "inflecting" the 1987 Harold Prince Broadway revival. Got that? It goes on.

"By the [1998 Broadway] production, [Sam] Mendes got rid of some of the original Cabaret numbers in favor of things from the movie," Columbus says. "We're actually going back to the '66 version for much of it. The text is a combination of the '87 and '66."

The musical's book is by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander, and lyrics by Fred Ebb.

The story takes place in the decadent Berlin of the early 1930s, when the Nazis were beginning to come to power but were easily dismissed as a passing political fad. New to town, aspiring novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Mauro Hantman) gets to know fellow boarding house resident Sally Bowles (Rachael Warren), a free-spirited singer at the Kit Kat Klub, who survives mainly by seducing rich and generous old men. An ill-fated romance between Cliff and Sally ensues.

Familiarity with the movie will likely put a lot of people into Trinity seats, and while some of the music from the film will be in this production, audiences are likely to be well-pleased by inclusions from the stage versions.

" 'Money,' which is a song from the movie, in the Mendes version they just do 'Money makes the world go 'round.' Well, the '87 version has this great combination of the original money song and the movie money song. The original money song is nothing like the one in the movie. So there's a lot of great Kander and Ebb music that didn't make it into the movie Cabaret."

When we think of the film's cabaret, we visualize a small, intimate basement nightclub, not a cavernous space like Trinity's upstairs theater. And that's where we and Fosse would be wrong. German kabarets were in wide-open theatrical auditoriums.

"The cabaret of the time, when we do the research and look at the images, it was much more a music hall," Columbus says, and then looks around. "It looks like this space. They were almost circusy.

"So our production is a very Trinity production," he adds, referring to their tradition of audience inclusion. "It spills out into the audience."

The audience will be very much a part of this Cabaret, with the emcee (Joe Wilson Jr.) addressing them directly, as in a music hall. Some might notice visual quotes from prior productions there. Columbus points to the cannon on stage, from Billy Budd, and the towering proscenium arch from The Importance of Being Earnest. But even if they don't notice the references to injustices, the emcee — played by African-American Wilson — will remind them.

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