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Drury University Theatre to Produce Kander and Ebb's 'Cabaret'

(Logo courtesy Drury University Theatre)

Drury University Theatre will present John Kander and Fred Ebb's musical classic Cabaret Wednesday through Saturday November 11-14 in Wilhoit Theater. Drury Theatre head Robert Westenberg directs the production, and he readily admits that this show, which has definitely earned its "classic" status since its 1966 debut, deals with rather dark subject matter with "satire, snark"--and style. The show has "evolved since 1966," he says, "especially with the Alan Cumming production in the 1990s--it took it to another level in terms of the decadence of that part of Berlin, which recently was in USA Today."  In fact, there's now a real-life Kit Kat Klub in Berlin "that prides itself on being extremely... 'liberal' and counter-culture," adds Westenberg.

Of course the fictional Kit Kat Klub in the show is portrayed much the same way. Westenberg reports that Drury has had a professional set designer come in to design a set with cabaret tables both on the stage and in the audience.

Drury student Chloe Rogers-Brown plays the androgenous M.C.  You may recall the early 1970s film version of Cabaret featured Joel Grey in a standout performance of this role. But Chloe has always loved the character. "I saw a Cabaret production when I was a lot younger, and I just fell in love with the role. The M.C. serves as the 'narrator'--there's not a lot of interaction with other characters. But the M.C. is always there, a completely symbolic character who brings a lot of 'ah-hah!' moments into the production--and really kind of makes you stop and think about some things."

Sally Bowles, the lead female role, is a young British performer at the Kit Kat, portrayed in Drury's production by Eva Holliday. She calls Sally "a tornado of joy and excitement and dreams.  She has a very clear-cut idea of what she wants for her life--and there's nothing getting in her way.  Sally is very complex in the sense that I don't think she really lives in the real world. She would prefer to live in her own delusion of the world rather than face the truth of what's happening politically.  She doesn't want to know--she doesn't care.  She wants life to be free and joyous, and a party all the time!"

Tyler Habiger is Cliff Bradshaw, the aspiring American novelist who comes to Europe for "inspiration" as he struggles to write is own "Great American Novel." Habiger says Cliff is "looking to absorb all that cities like Berlin have to offer. He's looking very much to sample the 'local cuisine' if you will--and by God, does he get what he wishes for!" Cliff is very much intrigued by Sally, especially "after her first racy number, 'Don't Tell Mama.' And he's very much goaded and influenced to discover himself. There are a lot of layers to Cliff... and Sally definitely cajoles them out of him."

Along with the "snark," the satire, and the wonderful (and highly influential music Kander and Ebb have written into Cabaret, the show actually explores a very dark, dangerous period in both European and world history. The show is set in 1931, right as Hitler and the Nazis are about to take full power. "So," says director Robert Westenberg, "we're still in the 'brown-shirt' period--Hitler's still one of the rising factions, but he hasn't established dominance yet." That would come in 1933. But the looming Nazification of Germany and Central Europe is certainly an "ominous presence" throughout the story.  "It was a volatile period," says Westenberg. "Germany is recovering from the Versailles Treaty in World War I, and its inflation rates were skyrocketing." He says the impending Nazi takeover is "very deliberately injected into the plot through the character of Ernst, who is a politician who Cliff happens to run into on his train ride into Berlin."  Cliff unwittingly becomes a "mule," a smuggler for Ernst, going back and forth between Paris and Berlin to bring in "contraband for the Nazi Party."

Talking about the score of Cabaret, Robert Westenberg says that working on the show for this Drury production "has made me realize just how profoundly powerful and seminal this work is.  And the songs stand on their own." "And yet they come together so well (in the context of the show)," adds Chloe Rogers-Brown. The songs all end up ironically or satirically commenting on exactly what's happening in the play.  And, says Westenberg, 'I think when you see it and you see how they folded the themes of the songs into the themes of the play, it becomes even smarter, and even more artful."

Performances of Cabaret are scheduled for Wednesday through Saturday November 11-14 all at 7:30pm in Wilhoit Theatre on the Drury campus, with a matinee Saturday the 14th at 2:00pm.  Tickets are available at the Wilhoit box office Monday through Friday from 1:00 to 5:00pm, and an hour before curtain on show days. Call 873-7255.

Randy Stewart joined the full-time KSMU staff in June 1978 after working part-time as a student announcer/producer for two years. His job has evolved from Music Director in the early days to encompassing production of a wide range of arts-related programming and features for KSMU, including the online and Friday morning Arts News. Stewart assists volunteer producers John Darkhorse (Route 66 Blues Express), Lee Worman (The Gold Ring), and Emily Higgins (The Mulberry Tree) with the production of their programs. He's also become the de facto "Voice of KSMU" in recent years due to the many hours per day he’s heard doing local station breaks. Stewart’s record of service on behalf of the Springfield arts community earned him the Springfield Regional Arts Council's Ozzie Award in 2006.