City PagesBy: Ed Huyck January 15, 2014
John Kander and Fred Ebb's Cabaret is a study in contradictions: a musical loaded with jaunty tunes that do not hide the show's dark heart.
Peter Rothstein has wanted to tackle the show "forever." The time is right for Rothstein's Theatre Latte Da, in a co-production with the Hennepin Theatre Trust, to tackle the work.
Part of the delay was waiting for Sam Mendes's 1993 version to be made available for production. Mendes sharpened the piece, adding layers of sexuality to the Emcee and acknowledging central character Cliff's bisexuality. "The day they licensed it, I applied for it," Rothstein says.
Beyond that, there were other productions in town -- from the Ordway and Frank Theatre -- to wait out before tackling the show for Latte Da.
The musical offers a director and creative team plenty of choices to make, especially as there are multiple versions of the play, from the original piece to the various revivals to the memorable 1972 film.
For Latte Da's production, the Pantages has been stripped of curtains and other facades to allow the audience to peek in at the show's machinery. "The scenery that will fly in will be exposed to all. We're all voyeurs into the story. The fourth wall is wide open. It's the Emcee's job to shine a light on history," Rothstein says.
Visually, Rothstein wanted the production to takes its cues from two pieces of technology: railways and merry-go-rounds.
The first was instrumental in the horrors of the holocaust that occur just a few years after the milieu of the musical. The merry-go-rounds represent the world of the Kit Kat Klub, where the denizens try to hold on to their glittery, gender-bending world.
As in the Mendes version, "Tomorrow Belongs to Us" -- the rousing act one number that also serves as an anthem of sorts for the growing power of the Nazis -- is sung in a prerecorded version. "We made our own propaganda film and use it as a soundtrack for the film," Rothstein says.
Tyler Michaels plays the Emcee. He's been onstage with the likes of Chanhassen Dinner Theatres and Theatre Latte Da in the past. "He's going to be a huge star," Rothstein says.
Kim Lace Hawkins gets the show's other signature role, Sally Bowles.
"Sally is a hard role to cast. The character is so complicated," Rothstein says. Some productions focus on the singing. Others have gravitated to the idea that Sally Bowles is a mediocre singer at best. Rothstein decided to bring in Hawkins, a strong actor and singer for the role.
Other cast members include Sean Dooley as Cliff, Jim Detmar as Herr Schultz, and Sally Wingert as Fraulein Schneider.
"She's singing the hell out of it," Rothstein says.
Overall, Rothstein hopes the production brings home all of the complexity at the heart of Cabaret.
"I really do want them to go on the ride. I want them to sign on for the fun of the evening. I also want them to go home thinking about it and talking about it," Rothstein says. "[German] culture was the most progressive culture on the planet. How could this happen?"