Cocktail tables with rotary phones cluster around a central, intimate stage. The lights go down and the Emcee enters, playing to the audience, while the male ensemble, adorned with sequined suspenders, serve drinks to the audience at the tables.
This immersive illusion gives a fresh perspective to Vocal Miscellany’s production of “Cabaret.” Senior Julia Masotti directed the production with musical direction from senior Katelyn Hearfield and choreography from senior Katie Keller. “Cabaret” ran from Thursday Jan. 24 to Saturday Jan. 26 in the Robert E. Sinclair Black Box Theatre.
“I wanted to look at the cabaret as a vehicle, and performance as a vehicle, for luring people into this blindness,” Masotti said. “The lines between the cabaret and real life become increasingly more blurred … We wanted to take that even further, so that you see this very oppressive, menacing presence of the cabaret, all the cabaret people and the Emcee.”
A faculty member traditionally directs Vocal Miscellany productions, but Masotti and Hearfield said that they requested to use this production as their senior capstone project for the Edgar Fellows Program.
Unable to obtain the rights for their original choice, Masotti and Hearfield stumbled upon “Cabaret” this summer, previously only familiar with the film version starring Liza Minelli.
“I always associated it with this flashy dance show and when we actually looked into it we realized it’s smart, and [there’s] so much substance,” Masotti said.
“Cabaret” follows American writer Clifford “Cliff” Bradshaw as he arrives in Berlin, Germany in 1931 on the precipice of the Nazi regime and becomes involved with the British nightclub singer of the Kit Kat Klub, Sally Bowles.
Masotti took a traditionally over-the-top musical and gave it a gritty, realistic sensibility. Instead of the cabaret being a colorful place to escape troubles, the nightclub is used as a dangerous place that seduces the characters onstage and the audience into veering towards the underbelly of society.
The Emcee and Kit Kat dancers’ haunting makeup, combined with ripped costumes and Keller’s symbolic choreography, emphasizes the seedy nature of the cabaret. The constant presence of the cabaret members, who eye the action from predatory poses above and around the stage, serve “as phantoms that are luring each of the characters into this very dark, hedonistic lifestyle,” Masotti said.
Senior Samuel Colbert brings a vulnerability to Cliff as he struggles to write his novel, figure out who he is and try to make sense of the chaotic changes happening around him. His portrayal is one that the audience connects to, as people who are introduced into this dark world and unsure of what decisions to make.
“A lot of [Bradshaw’s] role is to be the lens through which the audience can see what is going on,” said Colbert. “He’s constantly surrounded by these colorful characters… but he himself doesn’t have much action, so it was difficult to make him come alive.”
Opposite of Bradshaw, senior Alexandra Mendes’ Bowles emphasizes her determination to remain in the world of fantasy without taking the growing danger seriously. Mendes gives Sally a strong confidence but also skillfully shows Bowles’ effort to stay blind to the truth of the life she’s living.
“I see [Bowles] as a 13-year-old exasperated girl in the body of a twenty-something year-old,” said Mendes. “I think it’s very interesting how she uses her sexuality to get what she wants and she does that for the entire show.”
As the flamboyant Emcee, senior Joshua Horowitz commands the stage, his presence powerful even in scenes where he’s silent.
The decision to have the Emcee as an overbearing presence shows “how easy it was for people to ignore what was going on around them and pretend that everything was okay because that’s what was happening around that time … they’re choosing ignorance and … falling for the Emcee’s trap of ‘see how easy it was for me to trick you into choosing the wrong path,’” Hearfield explained.
“We took this duality look at [the role], as having both the emcee of the club and the emcee of the show,” Horowitz said. “All the characters become ignorant to what’s coming… and the emcee helps [the audience] realize how easy it was to fall for what happened and how you can get get sucked into the decadence of the cabaret.”
Rounding out the ensemble of characters affected by the chaos in Berlin is Ernst Ludwig, portrayed by senior Russell Allen as a vision of Germany’s future; Fräulein Kost, played by junior Elyssa Ramirez, whose dynamic with junior Melissa Niknam’s Frälein Schneider serves as comedic relief in the lighter first act; and Herr Schultz, portrayed by sophomore Louis DiPaolo, whose romance with Schneider is a sweet side story with a bitter end that enforces the harsh reality of the time period.