“Leave your troubles outside! Life is disappointing? Forget it! In here, life is beautiful! The girls are beautiful! Even the orchestra is beautiful!”
Welcome to The Kit-Kat Club, Germany’s most decadent nightspot. And welcome to Cabaret, the groundbreaking musical based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 novel Goodbye to Berlin. WUSTL’s Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences will present a new staging of this modern classic Oct. 19-28 in Edison Theatre.
“We’re not rewriting the play, but we are reimagining it for a 21st-century audience,” says director Annamaria Pileggi, professor of the practice in drama. “The separation between the world of the play and the world of the Edison is going to be tested.”
For example, “we’re extending the notion of cabaret out into the audience,” Pileggi says. “We’re putting cabaret tables on stage, and we’ll have members of the audience in those seats.
“The audience will become part of the action.”
Telephones on every table
First staged in 1966, Cabaret was revived on Broadway in 1987 and in London in 1998.
“With each incarnation it’s gotten a little more raw, a little grittier, a little closer to what the cabaret scene was like in 1920s Berlin,” Pileggi says.
The story centers on Cliff Bradshaw, an American writer touring Europe in search of inspiration. On a train to Berlin, he meets Ernst Ludwig, a mysterious businessman who nonchalantly hides a suitcase from border guards.
“Cliff strikes up a conversation and Ernst gives him a card for a boarding house,” Pileggi says. “Ernst also tells him about The Kit-Kat Klub. ‘The hottest spot in Berlin. Telephones on every table. Girls call you. You call them. Instant connections.’”
There, Cliff comes to the attention of Sally Bowles, the Klub’s fearless headliner, who abruptly moves into his flat. Ernst shows up for English lessons, and asks Cliff if he’d like to make a quick buck. The city, meanwhile, grows increasingly claustrophobic, as the Weimar Republic gives way to Hitler’s Third Reich.
“There’s a sense of impending doom,” Pileggi says. “The phrase that’s been echoing in my head is ‘never again.’ We should never forget what happened to Jews, to homosexuals, to gypsies – to any group the Nazis saw as ‘other.’”
Pileggi adds that the idea of ‘the other’ seems particularly resonant amidst the often overheated rhetoric of an election season.
“We’re kind of all in this together,” Pileggi says. “Can’t we ever learn to see ourselves, not as ‘us’ and ‘them,’ but simply as us?”
Cast and crew
Leading the cast of 22 are junior Sarah Palay as Sally, graduate student William Biegler as Cliff and junior Eric Gustafson as Ernst.
Also featured are senior Peter Winfrey as the Master of Ceremonies and junior Ariel Saul as Fräulein Schneider, who owns the boarding house where Sally and Cliff live.
Junior Micajah Dudley and sophomore Anna Richards play two fellow tenants — the Jewish shopkeeper Herr Schultz and the prostitute Fräulein Kost.
Scenic and costume design are by WUSTL alumni Justin Barisonek and Elizabeth Wisler, respectively. Lighting is by Sean Savoie, lecturer in the PAD. Props are by Emily Frei. Sound design is by Matthew Koch.
Musical direction is by Henry Palkes. Choreography is by Christine O’Neal, professor of the practice in dance. Dramaturge is Julie Jordan.
Performances of Cabaret will take place in Edison Theatre at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 19 and 20; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21. Performances then will continue as part of WUSTL’s Parent’s Weekend at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26 and 27, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28.
Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. Tickets are $15, or $10 for students, seniors and WUSTL faculty and staff. Tickets are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office, (314) 935-6543, and through all MetroTix outlets.
For more information, call (314) 935-6543 or visit padarts.wustl.edu.