by Toni Wilson Wood
Greg Holt, director of Waterloo Community Playhouse’s production of Cabaret, called the cast and crew to the sit down in the Hope Martin Theatre, on Sunday, March 20th. In his hand is a map of the United States; on each state is a number, symbolizing the number of active hate groups currently in the United States. Iowa, he said, has five, which elicited murmurs from the cast and crew. A brief discussion of the KKK’s history in Butler County breaks out. “We have to be vigilant,” Holt said.
This is a common thing to see at the beginning of a Greg Holt production rehearsal–there’s always background to help the cast and crew understand more deeply the world of the play and the characters. This background information just deepens the impact of the story of Cabaret–more on that in a minute. Back to the rehearsal.
Musical theatre is NOT for the weak or wimpy–nothing reminds you of how strong and resilient you need to be to be in musicals as much as attending a rehearsal.
Watching the actors warm up, sing their scales, while they stretch, tape and bandage feet–you are reminded of how hard on the body it is to be in a musical–and just how wonderful they are when all the rehearsals come together in performance to make the whole thing look so effortless.
The cast of Cabaret, even in rehearsal, make it look easy. And you can tell that this is a cast and artistic team that love this show. This rehearsal lacked costumes, had only 60 percent of the lights in place, but none of that mattered–the actors made the story glow. I am certain that with full lights, sets, costumes and makeup, WCP’s Cabaret will shine, shine, shine.
Cabaret is set in Berlin in 1931, as the Nazis are rising to power, and is based on the nightlife of the Kit Kat Klub, known for its decadence and sexy, no holds barred fun. The Master of Ceremonies (M.C., played by Scott Schuster), oversees the fun and games as the Nazis gain more and more power over Germany. Holt hopes that the play will be more than a historical look at a terrible time in German history.“I really hope that songs like “If You Could See Her with My Eyes” will get the audience to think about times when they may have judged people for how they looked, their sexual orientation or beliefs,” he said.
It is difficult to not draw parallels between the current political climate in the United States as we run up to the next presidential election and the climate in Germany just prior to the Nazis taking control. “Ultimately the Nazi uprising in Germany happened because a populace was angry over unemployment and inflation and they blamed their situation on immigrants and Jews. Thus they gave up individual rights to assuage their anger and fears,” said Holt.
While he’s not looking to compare any political candidates to Hitler, “I would love it if our audience didn’t blindly follow angry leaders. Tolerance is a virtue, working together is a virtue, eliminating those that don’t believe as you do is genocide…I want to engage the audience and get them to think a little bit. What such thinking will lead to is up to them.”
To be clear, Cabaret is not just a history lesson set to music–each of the couples we meet–from the ill fated romance between Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor to the American writer, Cliff Bradford, and the 19 year old British cabaret performer, Sally Bowles–we grow to care for these characters and worry about their well-being in the shadow of the Reich. Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, delightfully and sweetly played by Kim Groninga and John Hilber, broke my heart near the end of the play. And the sudden turn from Sally Bowles regarding her relationship with Cliff Bradford made me gasp in the end–it was incredibly sad. Ashley Rodgers plays Sally Bowles with a lovely sweetness, a coy sassiness and her voice is just divine. Rodgers was last seen in Little Shop of Horrors as Audrey on the WCP stage, and I personally look forward to seeing more of her.
I was utterly delighted with Scott Schuster as the M.C., from the moment he slunk onto the stage, welcoming us in three different languages to indulge and enjoy ourselves at the Kit Kat Klub. He oozes the salaciousness needed to play the M.C., famously played by Joel Grey and Alan Cumming. Schuster dreamt of playing the M.C. from the time he was 14 years old and his parents took him and his siblings to see a production of the show. “I was absolutely enthralled by the performance given by Dean Squibb [as the M.C.], who has over the years become a good friend of mine. As I sat in the audience, I told myself that I would play that part one day.” While this is an iconic role, Schuster doesn’t want to just do an imitation of Grey or Cumming. “I’m striving to allow my own artistry to shine through,” he said.
Scott Schuster isn’t always on stage–he is the technical director and production manager of WCP. When he discovered that WCP was going to be doing the show, he began to work hard on his audition. He went through one vocal coach before his nerves about singing in public, along with the looming work of doing double duty with being on stage and off, got the best of him. In the end, his friends and a new vocal coach encouraged him to do the work he would need to do to get the part. “If it’s a role I want, I always go in guns blazing,” he said.
The M.C. and the cabaret boys and girls are kind of a Greek chorus, commenting on the action of the play and the climate of Berlin in general. The Kit Kat Klub is a metaphor not only for the crumbling Weimar Republic as the Nazis take power, but also symbolize the kind of laissez faire attitude that many Germans, both Jewish and non-Jewish–took in response to all the horrible things that could happen. Even as the commentary from the M.C. and his crew becomes more and more ominous as the musical chugs to it’s inevitable end, I found myself hoping this time it would be different.
The camaraderie of the cast is another wonderful thing about being in a play or musical, and this group of actors seems especially close. From singing a loud and raucous happy birthday to one of the Kit Kat Klub girls, to discussing going for Mexican food after the rehearsal, and teasing one another about leaving each other out of extra-rehearsal activities, this group is clearly enjoying each other’s company and loving the work they are doing on stage. This kind of camaraderie is needed, not just for the show to gel together properly as each actor becomes their character on stage, but also for the human beings the actors are. They support each other, help each other, raise each other up. It’s a beautiful thing to see.
Hope Martin Theatre
Waterloo Community Playhouse
Friday, April 1 – Saturday, April 2 at 7 p.m.
Sunday, April 3 at 2 p.m.
Thursday, April 7 – Saturday, April 9 at 7 p.m.
Sunday, April 10 at 2 p.m.
$25 adults/ $15 students
Recommended age 16 +