January 20, 2020

Cabaret in rehearsal mode

It’s the Monday evening of the long weekend and I am way over due for a long post. I’ve been meaning to do one for weeks but Cabaret rehearsals have been a bit on the draining side so by the time I get home, all I want to do is lie down, cuddle with Anastasia and watch bad television until it’s time for sleep before getting up for another fourteen hour day of work and rehearsal. I’m beginning to notice my age at the end of some of the longer days with knees creaking and thighs aching. At least my dance breaks are a short soft shoe and a box step waltz and not the gyrations the Kit Kat girls and boys are going through.

Cabaret is going quite well. Tonight was second dress. Final dress tomorrow, preview on Wednesday and then a run of twelve performances over three weeks. The elements are all essentially in place with a little fine tuning going on. I have friends who go to the theater and who don’t understand the process who think that we just kind of get up there and do it but, especially with a musical, the calibration of acting, music, dance, set, lights and costumes is a finely tuned machine and the least little thing wrong can gum up the works and what should be a souffle becomes a latke. This one has had a relatively short production period out of which we lost a few days to holidays so we’ve all had to be there with our game faces on more days than not the last few weeks to pull it all together.

I’ve done Cabaret several times before and this is my second crack at Herr Schultz. Having become older and wiser and having gone through more personal tragedy recently than I care to recount, I’m tapping into much deeper emotions than I did the last time around and my second Act break up and parting scenes are much more difficult for me to do. Schultz and Schneider provide the real emotion in the piece to contrast with the superficiality of Sally and her relationships and the outside observer status of Cliff. Dane Peterson, our fearless director, talks about how the show tricks the audience. It seduces them with the first act with all of its tawdry, titillating show within a show numbers and then turns on them in the second act as the world devolves into the inexorable onrush towards fascism and all the characters we have come to care about meet their dismal fates. The staging of the finale, which we finally did tonight with full lights, costumes, and make up, will likely leave the audience saddened, angry, and uncertain whether they should even applaud. And that is as it should be.

This has been an incredibly supportive company of performers, staff and crew putting this one together. Each of us on stage is going into some dark places and I have seen more than one actor come off in real tears after a heavy emotional moment but we’re all there for each other making sure each and every one of us is ok and ready for what comes next. A special kudos to Celeste Burnum as my Schneider for putting up with my flubbed lines, two left feet, and especially for putting up with me singing a tenor part in her face when I’m a bass baritone. I hope those of you in the Birmingham area get tickets as it’s really a good piece of theater. It may be a musical, but leave the kids at home if they’re under high school age. It’s not the sex, which is pretty tame, it’s the bleakness of the second act.

Cabaret in Performance

I was looking at my car the other evening as I was getting into it after rehearsal. In the back were a pink ball gown, which I need to return to its owner, a collection of serving platters which were on loan to the church for a major social event, a large box of artificial flowers which had been used as props in Dear Brutus, a live animal trap with which to catch the opossum that’s taken up residence in the basement, the chorus score to Massenet’s Cendrillon, the score to Mozart’s Requiem, and a large bag of Gummi Bears. I couldn’t help but think that it is somehow a metaphor for my life. At times I feel like I’ve made myself overly busy and there are nights when I get home when I just want to do nothing but can’t because I have somewhere to be or something that needs to be done for the morrow but in general, I think I’m making the right choice to provide myself with that structure. I go right into opera season after Cabaret, have a play after that, then I have a couple of weeks in late April where nothing much is scheduled so I’ll plan some time away then.

The last time I saw Cabaret on stage, it was the original Studio 54 production later in the run. It was the first Broadway show Tommy and I went to together in New York. We splurged for one of the tables down front, had Southern Comfort Manhattans – two rounds pre show and again at intermission. Frankly, I don’t remember much of the second act, much less how we got back to the hotel that night. I don’t think the Virginia Samford Theater is offering those particular drinks which is probably just as well. Cabaret was one of Tommy’s favorite shows. He did the costumes and makeup last time I was in it. I think he’d be pleased with this one. I hope he catches a performance from wherever he is. I think he’d like it as it’s meeting his maxim of ‘I want to see everyone I know on stage and no one I know on stage’. Steve, on the other hand, wouldn’t like it as much. He liked his musicals colorful, happy and funny. There are comic relief moments in this, but no big jazzy up tempo tap numbers. His taste in musical entertainments definitely informed some of Mrs. Norman Maine as I was honing her personality.

Off to rural house calls in the morning, followed by final dress. I look forward to seeing my Cabaret family and taking our journey into hell together. It’s challenging and uncomfortable, but also fulfilling and compelling. I’m learning more about myself and glad I have such a group of souls with whom I get to make the trip every night. Much mazel.

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