It’s 2022 and Goodspeed Musicals is hosting a full season of full-scale musicals for the first time since the pandemic changed the theater world.
Kicking off is a classic show Goodspeed has never done before: “Cabaret”.
“Cabaret” was a title Goodspeed executives had discussed over the years, says Donna Lynn Hilton, who became artistic director in January 2021 after more than three decades with the organization. (David Byrd was named chief executive of Goodspeed at the same time.)
As they discussed potential lineups for 2022, as the world emerged from the pandemic, this show kept coming back.
“We know we have an older audience that never comes back to us for so many reasons related to their lives and what the pandemic has done to them,” Hilton says. So, she says, in deciding to produce “Cabaret,” “it’s a pretty intentional choice to give our existing audience a title they know and appreciate and, in many cases, love. They know certainly the score. And to give our developing audience, our growing audience, something that has more relevance right now because we’re all coming out of probably the most traumatic thing that’s happened to a lot of us over the course of our life.”
Discussing this relevance, Hilton said someone at a members’ event asked her if the rise of fascism across the world had anything to do with the choice of “Cabaret,” since the rise of Nazism in 1929-1930 in Germany is a major element that weighs on the scenario. . She first said no, then realized the answer was yes.
“Because the central question of the ‘Cabaret’ story is, what would you do if they came looking for your neighbor? I think we’re at a point in the world where we have to ask ourselves that question,” said Hilton.
She says “Cabaret” is also light-hearted, funny and entertaining, with fantastic musical numbers and amazing dancing, but that won’t let the audience off the hook without considering the aforementioned question.
All about “Cabaret”
“Cabaret” is set in Berlin as the Jazz Age fades and the Nazis take more control. American writer Cliff Bradshaw meets singer Sally Bowles at the decadent Kit Kat Club, where people blithely ignore what’s going on in the country. The show follows their dramatic relationship. Another equally tense romance during “Cabaret” is between Fraulein Schneider, who owns a boarding house, and Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor.
“Cabaret,” which hit Broadway in 1966, features songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb, including “Maybe This Time” and “Don’t Tell Mama.” His book is by Joe Masteroff, based on John Van Druten’s play from the stories of Christopher Isherwood.
Hilton notes that the stage version of “Cabaret” is very different from the Oscar-nominated film adaptation. A number of characters who are central to the story on stage have much smaller presences – or don’t exist at all – in the film.
For people who only know the movie, she says, “You’re going to see something that’s going to surprise you in terms of the strength of the story, in terms of the heart of the story, in terms of its relevance in our world today. today.”
The cast is a mix of Broadway veterans and new talent, many making their Goodspeed debut.
“We’ve looked at history, and we’ve considered the responsibility that we all have in our industry right now, to make sure we’re creating avenues for artists who may not have had them in the past. what does it look like on “Cabaret”? Well, “Cabaret” is set in Weimar, Germany during the rise of Nazism. … There’s a story there about the race that needs to be protected telling it, and at the same time, we want to showcase the rainbow of talent that is American theater today,” Hilton said.
“We made the decision to play the roles that are central to the impact of the rise of Nazism at this time with white actors. So the roles of Schultz, Schneider, Cliff Bradshaw…and Ernst (a smuggler who, it turns out, is a Nazi) are white. The rest of the company is the diversity of the globe. We thought for an audience in 2022, this would underscore, reinforce, support this question of: What are you going to do you do when the person who is not like you is in danger? Are you going to be able to step in and become an ally or are you going to turn your back?”
The show is directed by James Vasquez, who had worked at Goodspeed a decade ago developing a piece for the Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals. He lives in California, and Hilton says one of the great things that’s happened during the pandemic is that she’s been able to spend hours on her screen, talking to people who live far away.
“We have so many new artists working with us this year that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet them if I hadn’t been forced to sit down for a year,” she says.
A co-worker suggested he contact Vasquez, and they had two great conversations that led to him directing “Cabaret.”
The production’s choreographer is Lainie Sakakura, who worked on “A Grand Night for Singing” at Goodspeed last fall. Sakakura suggested asking Nicole Fosse, the daughter of dancer/actress Gwen Verdon and director/choreographer Bob Fosse, who directed the 1972 film version of “Cabaret,” to reenact one of his numbers. Nicole Fosse created The Verdon Fosse Legacy, an organization created to protect her father’s intellectual property.
Allowing a rebuild in a professional production is rare, but Fosse has agreed. The Goodspeed production will recreate “Mein Herr”.
When Goodspeed executives asked Sakakura to choreograph the production, they wanted her to bring her own sensibility to the piece, but they also knew she enjoyed the Fosse style.
Sakakura was in the original show’s company “Fosse”, so she has a direct connection to Fosse’s work.
“She spent years in the room preparing for this production, working with dancers who had worked with him and Gwen, and she worked with Gwen, learning the Fosse repertoire,” Hilton explains.
Back in shape
For the past two pandemic-hit summers, Goodspeed had pivoted and presented outdoor concerts and shows instead of its traditional indoor musical plays.
Hilton says it feels really good to be back to a full season of musicals at the Opera.
“It seems normal in a kind of scary way after everything we’ve been through. But, you know, it’s a good thing. At the same time, it’s really stressful and we’re walking on rocks all the time. hot coals, just trying to make sure we stay healthy, everyone is healthy, the public is coming back the way we need them. So far, they absolutely are. We’re really, really encouraged,” she says.
When it comes to preparation, the biggest issue has been staffing, as is the case with so many other companies. For Goodspeed, it is throughout the institution but especially in the production department.
“So many people who have been sidelined during the pandemic have had to make the decision to go into other fields in order to support themselves and their families, so the workforce of our industry is really exhausted right now. It takes so much effort to secure that one person. … It’s the same for the theater industry as for the manufacturing industry as for all other industries in this time,” Hilton says.
Goodspeed plans to reopen its Terris Theater in Chester, where the theater develops new musicals, in 2023. The work at the Opera guarantees what Goodspeed is doing at the Terris, so executives are waiting to bring Terris back until the Opera is back and running and they are sure that audiences are back to the level they need.