What use is sitting alone in your room in March when the hottest show of the season is ready to go at Rochester Civic Theatre?
That would be “Cabaret,” of course, which opens Friday.
Is Rochester ready for this sizzling look at between-the-wars Berlin?
“What’s too racy for Rochester?” said Greg Miller, who is directing the show. “If we can do ‘Chicago,’ if we can do ‘Rent,’ then we can do a show from the ’60s.”
He’s right in that “Cabaret,” which made its Broadway debut in 1966, was once thought of as scandalous. The show with Nazis, prostitutes and a seedy nightclub setting, even in the boundary-pushing ’60s was viewed with an arched eyebrow. By today’s standards, “Cabaret” is somewhat tame, although RCT warns it is not appropriate for ages 16 and younger.
“Some people like it just because it has that decadent quality to it,” Miller said.
Even without the setting and storyline, “Cabaret” would probably be a hit because of songs like “Willkommen” and “Cabaret.”
“The music is always great,” Miller said. One problem: “People always remember the film, which is different from the play,” Miller said. In fact, the 1972 film, which starred Liza Minnelli, dropped all but six of the stage play’s songs.
The play is based on John Van Druten’s 1951 drama “I am a Camera,” which in turn had been adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 book, “Goodbye to Berlin.” “Cabaret” is set in the early 1930s, as Hitler’s Nazis come to power. At the Kit Kat Klub in Berlin, a young British dancer, Sally Bowles, meets an American writer, Cliff Bradshaw, and amid the horrors of the new regime, they start a relationship.
As Berlin and Germany begin to change, so to does life for the characters in the story, including Herr Schultz, a Jewish shop owner.
“When we put this on the list, I thought, ‘Is this just a time piece?'” Miller said of “Cabaret.” “Once we re-read it, I found deeper meaning in it, and looking around at what’s going on in the world today, it’s still a lesson that can be listened to and heard.”
Miller cast Audrey Rinkoski, who has had leads roles in “Chicago” and “White Christmas” at RCT, as Sally Bowles. Cody Jensen is Clifford Bradshaw, Jerry Casper is Herr Schultz, and Leslie Haack is the Emcee. Jan Matson is the musical director, with the orchestra perched on a platform above the stage, rather than in the pit.
To cast the Kit Kat Klub’s singers and dancers, Miller said, “You’ve got to have performers who are performers. It’s a show within a show. They have to be able to sell it.”
That shouldn’t be a problem, given the enduring popularity of “Cabaret.” This relic from the ’60s, continues to win over audiences, whether on stage or screen, in revival or in its original Broadway rendition. “It’s amazing, when you think of it being a pre-World War II era show,” Miller said.