“Outside it is winter. But here it is so hot.” And not just hot, mind you. Berlin’s infamous Kit Kat Klub, where much of Cabaret takes place, is also wild, raw and at times downright raunchy. It’s a place where women proposition men, and boys do too, where life tastes delicious and where wives and worries are left at home. Outside, however, Germany sits partially trembling and partially blind on the eve of Nazism. Ultimately, the political situation renders the inside less lascivious and more escapist; the Kit Kat Klub transforms into a retreat from Hitler’s Third Reich.
The characters of Cabaret struggle with their present in light of a troubled future. It is only appropriate, then, that directors Sabrina K. Blum ’03 and Joy B. Fairfield ’03 would struggle with elements of time as well. Cabaret first debuted on Broadway in 1966, was reincarnated as a movie in 1972, and revived on Broadway by director Sam Mendes in 1998. With a loyal fan base, Cabaret challenged Blum and Fairfield to find their own creative voice while avoiding an alienation of Cabaret devotees who might view change as betrayal. “I’ve never done a show that’s been haunted by so many ghosts,” says Fairfield. “It’s hard to fight history and still maintain your own vision.”
The central story of Cabaret follows the romance between Cliff Bradshaw, an American writer in Berlin, and Sally Bowles, a mysterious dancer from the club. At the same time, a powerful subplot involves the more mundane “aging spinster”—Fraülein Schneider—and her lodger/boyfriend—Herr Schultz. Blum and Fairfield reworked specific scenes to keep Bradshaw active and central in the play, not allowing him to become overshadowed by the richly developed subplot. “We rewrote [an] entire song to make Cliff cooler,” Fairfield says. “Cliff wasn’t initially in it. But we made him the center of attention.”
Unlike his character Cliff Bradshaw, Thomas P. Lowe ’05 is no étranger to said attention. Lowe starred as Murius in Les Miserables from 1998 to 2000 and Rum Tum Tugger in Cats from 2000 to 2001 on London’s West End. His biggest claim to fame, however, comes as a member of the British boy band “North and South.” At 19, his band’s single “Man, Not a Boy,” jumped to number seven on the U.K charts and reached number two in Malaysia.
Portraying Bradshaw hasn’t been without difficulty. “Cliff is extremely different from me in real life,” Lowe says. While Bradshaw finds the underground night scene novel and intriguing, it has grown repetitive for Lowe. “I sadly make a habit of finding myself trashed outside of a club wearing a dress, with my stiletto trapped in the drain,” he says. Beyond these personality differences, Lowe has found it difficult not to come off as “cocky” when speaking “American.” “Maybe cockiness is part of my ingrained stereotype of an American,” he says.
Alexander K. Schemmer ’04, who portrays the emcee, functions perhaps as the most crucial character in the show, skillfully weaving in and out of scenes and unifying Cabaret’s various themes. The role requires a dynamic personality. “The emcee is definitely a bright, high-energy character but one with a dark side,” Schemmer says. “Balancing the two has been interesting.” The emcee is also the most recognizable character to anyone familiar with the show. Joel Grey won the Tony Award for his performance on Broadway in 1966, he won the Oscar for the film version in 1972, and he even reprised his role in a 1987 revival.
Schemmer doesn’t appear daunted. Rather than sticking verbatim to Grey’s script, Schemmer utilizes his own talents at ad lib. “Victor and Bobby are just like twins,” he says of two of the dancers. “Whatever Victor does, Bobby does; whatever Bobby does, Victor does. It all gets very confusing when they do each other!” Schemmer’s performance résumé includes playing “Elvira L’Infection” in the 2001 Pudding Show, singing with the Krokodiloes last year, and dancing in a ballet program in Cannes two summers ago. Next semester, Schemmer will “round out [his] education” by attending an acting conservatory program in London.
Original choreography is the primary means by which the directors have found the midpoint between an original vision and loyalty to the show. As in past renditions, elements of the scandalous and hypersexual remain, yet Blum’s choreography offers something new and exciting for diehard fans. Each dance is elaborate and many are dizzying: bodies writhe, fly, twist, grind, and in some cases, hang limp from other bodies that write, fly, twist and grind. With so much action it can be hard to find a focus, but such confusion only adds to the show’s intrigue.
Auditions drew some of Harvard’s most active dancers, including Perry Fleisig-Greene ’05 who trained at the School of American Ballet for eight years. Daniel Hoyos ’03, who tackles the role of the libidinous Bobby, produced the popular X-Rated earlier this semester and appeared in a McDonald’s commercial as a kid. In reference to his character, “straddling is my favorite position,” Hoyos says, “especially when I get to be on top.” The dances, more than anything else, reveal just how hot it is inside of the Kit Kat Club. While the outside world freezes and dies, Bradshaw and the others find transient solace through decadence. Indeed, as Mr. Bradshaw says, “It’s so tacky and terrible and everyone is having such a great time.”