For these theater students, life has literally been Cabaret for months.
If you’re not familiar with Cabaret through Alan Cumming’s iconic 1993 London performance (for which he won an Olivier Award), you’re at least familiar with Liza Minnelli’s incredible vocals in the 1972 film. We all know the songs, “Willkommen,” “Maybe This Time,” and the show-stopping title number that makes everyone want to belt out “life is a cabaret, old chum” (even though no one sings it like Liza).
But, as UCCS Theater & Dance director Kevin Landis says, “It’s peppy and fun but it’s all sort of masking something fairly sinister.”
The story of Cabaret has a few layers. On the surface, you have the incorrigible Sally Bowles, a wild burlesque dancer, and her whirlwind romance with Cliff Bradshaw, an American writer. The audience follows their relationship and those of others living in their Berlin boardinghouse in a series of sometimes funny, sometimes sincere moments. Then, under the surface, you have the slow, subtle rise of Nazi Germany that only remains subtle until the characters no longer have the option of ignoring it. The musical deals, as Landis says, with anxiety and suspicion and scapegoating in an unstable era in an unstable country.
“I think those are things we all understand no matter what culture we’re in,” he says, “and I think in America right now, with such division, it’s something we get quite clearly.” He says that good theater can do many things, and that Cabaret, while addressing a very important and particular time in a very particular place, can also bring up themes that relate to our own time and our own cultural anxieties.
“Anytime you’re producing this show,” he says, “you have to say what is it about the society we’re creating in that makes it relevant.”
But that relevance is not the only reason Landis is excited for this production in particular. In addition to being a personal favorite musical of his, Cabaret also marks the annual collaboration between the UCCS Theatre Company (comprised of UCCS students), the UCCS music department and TheatreWorks, the professional company attached to UCCS.
According to Landis, these shows always present a huge opportunity to students of theater. Not only do the students complete assistant design work, but they also fill all the roles, play the music and “ultimately they present a fully realized professional show.”
This means they have the opportunity to act on TheatreWorks’ stage at the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, and they get to work with set designer Roy Ballard (whom we’ve often lauded). According to Landis, not only is it always a joy to work with Ballard, but he’s knocked it out of the park on this one.
He and Landis have been conceptualizing Cabaret for a year, and now they’ve reconfigured the Dusty Loo with cabaret tables for the audience (and some bleacher seating for the more traditional) which makes for a much more immersive performance.
Plus, there will be a bar serving “Cabaret Coolers” (ingredients TBA, but probably including some combination of pineapple and gin) to really authenticate the cabaret feeling.
Some performances are already sold out, so “put down the knitting, the book and the broom” and get to that cabaret, old chum.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m., Sundays, 4 p.m. through March 26; and Sat., March 25, 2 p.m. UCCS Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Regent Circle, $15, theatreworkscs.org.