Changing times of 1931 Berlin at Maui OnStage in … Cabaret
A fitting snapshot of the short-lived art conclave that emerged in Berlin in the 1920s is 1951’s Tony Award-winning “I Am a Camera” by John Van Druten, from which the musical “Cabaret” is adapted. Conveyed through the eyes of Christopher Isherwood, author of the 1939 novel “Goodbye to Berlin,” “I Am a Camera” explores a young American writer’s plunge into the salacious, paradisiacal artiste network escorted by Sally Bowles, a scandalous nightclub singer.
The original Tony Award-winning “Cabaret” debuted on Broadway over 50 years ago, quickly followed by Bob Fosse’s Academy Award-winning film, then later revived by Sam Mendes to even more worldwide stage success in the 1990s, followed by the recent Broadway revival which has showcased Michelle Williams, Emma Stone and Sienna Miller as Sally. This weekend Maui OnStage opens “Cabaret” with Lin McEwan in the coveted Sally role.
Chronologically, a short list of famous Sallys includes: Julie Harris, Jill Haworth, Dame Judy Densch, Liza Minnelli, Natasha Richardson, Terry Hatcher, Deborah Gibson, Molly Ringwald and Brooke Shields.
“Cabaret’s” Sally was patterned after Marlene Dietrich’s Lola in the 1930 German film “The Blue Angel.” Shortly thereafter, Dietrich fled Germany at the rise of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazis, to pursue a career in Hollywood.
In America, she was eventually joined by such luminous German artists as Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill, Peter Lorre and film directors Ernst Lubitsch (“To Be or Not to Be”), Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”) and Billy Wilder (“Some Like it Hot”).
One actor who refused to leave Germany was Dietrich’s “Blue Angel” co-star, Kurt Gerron. The male lead in Brecht and Weill’s “Three Penny Opera” originated the song, “Mack the Knife.” In addition to acting and singing, Gerron was a comedian, nightclub emcee and film director. Gerron was also a Jew, and was ultimately banned from performing and directing in Nazi Germany. Like many who stayed, it was soon too late for him to join Dietrich in Hollywood, and he was captured and sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.
Under pressure by the International Red Cross, the Nazi’s perpetrated a hoax against Danish Red Cross officials in the summer of 1944 by taking them on a tour of Gerron’s camp. They beautified and arranged cultural activities to give the appearance of a happy community. Gerron was asked by the Schutzstaffel to stage a cabaret revue and he reprised “Mack the Knife.” The publicity stunt was so successful that SS commander Hans Gunther coerced Gerron to direct a short film on Theresienstadt to assure the world that concentration camp inmates were not being abused. In return, Gunther promised Gerron that he would live. Once filming was finished, however, Gerron was deported to Auschwitz, where he and his wife were immediately put to death in the gas chamber.
Although both debuted in the same era, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “Cabaret” does not enjoy a happy ending as is found in “The Sound of Music.” However, for fifty years, new generations discover and re-present this enduring and essential musical. Mendes’ revival exposed the shadowy side of Isherwood’s first-hand account — re-named Cliff in the musical and played by Stephen Webb — of Sally; the gender-bending Emcee, played by Bennett Cale; and the girls of the Kit Kat Klub Jessica Dungans, Denise Green, Adrianne Maitland-Laguda, Ellen Peterson, Julia Schwentor and Felicia Chernicki-Wulf.
Local director and choreographer Kalani Whitford is leaning the Maui OnStage production towards that darker, modern version. I asked what inspired him to do so.
“Sam Mendes first directed ‘Cabaret’ at the Donmar Warehouse theater in London with Alan Cumming and Jane Horrocks in 1993. His concept was it’s the club that’s putting on the play — the story about Cliff, Sally, Schneider, Schultz, Kost and Ernst,” Whitford explained. “It was a very minimalist take, only using the chairs that are in the Kit Kat Club to represent things like Cliff’s bed or Fraulein Schneider’s (Marsi Smith) couch. I really liked that. It reminded me of acting school, where the onus is on the actors to create the world around them and make us believe,” he said.
Whitford also shared why this “Cabaret” is must-see Maui theater.
“I think Maui theatergoers should see ‘Cabaret’ because it’s one of the great, classic, modern American musicals. This wonderfully dedicated and enthusiastic cast, crew and production team has created something that is at times new, exciting, sexy and fun — but also challenging, scary and, hopefully, thought provoking. I hope when people leave the theater, they will remember what these characters did and did not do for themselves and each other, and look at their own lives and see what they can do to help themselves and those around them,” said Whitford.
Also this week
Comedian Brian Regan returns at 8 p.m. Saturday to Castle Theater at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center in Kahului. One of the premier comedians in the country, Regan is praised by Jerry Seinfeld as “one of my favorite, favorite stand-up comedians.” Using the perfect balance of sophisticated writing and physicality, Regan’s all-age appropriate concerts consistently fill theaters nationwide with fervent fans that span generations.
* Performance at 8 p.m. Saturday in Castle Theater at the MACC. Tickets are $57.50 (plus applicable fees). To purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.
The MACC presents “Masters of the Currents” by Leilani Chan and Ova Saopeng at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in McCoy Studio Theater. Many of Hawaii’s most recent newcomers come from Micronesia –who fled their island nations due to environmental and economic pressures. Calling upon the shared histories of refugees in Hawaii, this play melds real-life stories in an effort to open an ongoing dialogue and serve as a creative bridge between new and old immigrant communities.
* Performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the McCoy Studio Theater at the MACC. Tickets are $28 (plus applicable fees). To purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or order online at mauiarts.org.
ProArts Playhouse in Kihei presents the suspenseful comedy “The 39 Steps,” by Patrick Barlow based on the Alfred Hitchcock film and the John Buchan novel, directed by Kristi Scott.
* Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, Friday through March 25 at the ProArts Playhouse at Azeka Place Makai. Tickets are $26. For more information or to purchase tickets for any ProArts event, call 463-6550 or visit www.proartsmaui.com.
Seabury Hall Performing Arts concludes the drama “These Shining Lives” by Melanie Marnich, directed by Sally Sefton.
* Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on the Seabury Hall campus in Makawao. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for students. For more information or to purchase tickets online, visit www.seaburyhall.org.
Baldwin Theatre Guild presents the musical-comedy “Once Upon a Mattress,” music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by Marshall Barer, book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer based on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Princess and the Pea.” The local youth production is directed by Linda Carnevale, choreographed by Dejah Padon, under the musical direction of Tana Larson and conducted by Stephen Rodrigues.
* Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays, opening Friday through March 11, with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on March 10 at the Baldwin Auditorium on the H. P. Baldwin High School campus in Wailuku. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $7 for youths ages 12 to 17 and $5 for ages 11 and under and are available at the box office 45 minutes before showtime.
Kamehameha Schools Drama Club has re-scheduled their performances of two one-act plays, “S.P.A.R.” by Stephen Gregg and “The Shakespeare Project” adapted by James Zager from William Shakespeare, directed by Camille Romero.
* Performances are at 7 p.m. March 9 and 10, with a special matinee at 2 p.m. March 10 at the Keopuolani Hale on the Kamehameha Schools Campus in Pukalani. Admission is free to all Kamehameha Schools productions.