As German society was sliding toward the Nazis in the 1930s, its popular cabarets mixed decadent entertainment with controversial political themes, a combination mirrored in the musical “Cabaret” which opens Thursday [FEB. 16] at East Central University.
The Tony Award-winning production will begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday [FEB.18] in the Ataloa Theatre in the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Theatre. Because of suggestive musical numbers and risqué acts, “Cabaret” may not be appropriate for those under age 15.
“Cabaret” is a tawdry tale, but with a hidden message, said director Dr. Kurt Edwards, ECU assistant professor of communication and performance studies.
“I hope to get the audience to see what is implicit in the message, then the explicitness won’t mean as much,” he said.
During the unbelievable rise of Nazism during the depression of the 1930s, he said, cabarets were at their height because of the relative lawlessness of Germany.
“‘Cabaret’ is a morality play. It warns of the dangers of ignoring the political movement of the Nazis in hopes of one last song and dance. It’s important to pay attention to what’s going on,” he explained.
“Today, as activism at both ends of the political spectrum has experienced a renaissance in America,” he added, “‘Cabaret’ as a cautionary morality play has tremendous resonance.”
Edwards quotes a line by Clifford Bradshaw, a so-called writer from Pennsylvania who moves to Berlin: “It’s so tawdry and terrible and everyone’s having such a great time. Like a bunch of kids playing in their room – getting wilder and wilder – and knowing any minute their parents are going to come home.”
But dangers and sorrows lurk beneath the surface of the frenzied gaiety that helped push aside the harsh realities of life for a few hours.
It’s a story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, Edwards said, for both Clifford Bradshaw, who falls in love with Sally Bowles, the English star at the seedy Kit Kat Klub, and Herr Schultz, a fruit vendor about to marry Fraulein Schneider, the owner of the rooming house where Clifford lives, until she realizes that her friends might look down on her for marrying a Jew.
“You have to find your own happiness in life,” Edwards said. “When Clifford loses Sally, he gets a new understanding of himself and where he came from. Hopefully, he finds resurrection from that.”
The musical takes place in the rooming house and the Kit Kat Klub where the scantily clad dancers and suggestive dances reflect the cabaret style of Germany in 1930.
“The dancing girls were not paid,” Edwards said. “They were prostitutes who would buy men drinks then take them backstage and earn their money. We see what happens when people fall into that trap. Sally falls into that trap and a circle of abuse.
“I hope people don’t just feel sorry for her. I hope they have empathy and react to what’s powerful in their own lives.”
Described as too subtle to be depressing, the musical features Anna Unruh of Ardmore as Sally Bowles and Jeff Bush of Bowlegs as Clifford Bradshaw.
The Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub, played by Kimberly Wren of Ada, serves as a cultural metaphor who takes pleasure in reminding the audience how easily society falls prey to the electrifying chaos that surrounds them.
The cast also includes Mason Lynn Gibson of Ada as Fraulein Schneider; Jared Scofield of Ada as Herr Schultz; Lacee Elliott of Davis as Texas and Fraulein Kost; Amber Huffman of Ada as Fritzy; Madeleine Williams of Broken Arrow as Helga; Domineque Carey of Springer as Ernst Ludwig; Talley McSwain of Ada as Rosie; Micah Hobday of Poteau as LuLu; Barbara Tiry of Skiatook as Frenchy; Ibrahim Nour of Ada as Bobby; Kane Berry of Shawnee as Victor; Bryan Young of Duncan as Hans; and Kevin Gottman of Tuttle as Herman.
Several students also play other minor roles.
Season ticket holders need to reserve seats on the night of their choice. Tickets are $10 or $9 for senior citizens, ECU alumni and non-ECU students. They may be purchased online at tickets.ecok.edu or reserved by calling the theatre’s box office at 580-559-5751 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. ECU students, faculty and staff will be admitted free with valid ECU ID cards.
Reserved tickets may be picked up at the will call window the night of the performance or at the fine arts center’s box office between 2 and 4 p.m. on weekdays.
“Cabaret” has quite a history. It opened on Broadway in 1966, written by Joe Masteroff, with lyrics by Fred Ebb and music by John Kander. It was based on Christopher Isherwood’s short novel “Goodbye to Berlin.”
The book was adapted in the 1950s as a Broadway play and film, “I Am a Camera,” starring Julie Harris. “Cabaret” was adapted for the screen in 1972 with Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles.