Come to the ‘Cabaret’: Old Globe offers a fresh take on the classic 1966 musical
An earlier version of this production directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes was presented last year at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Florida
Joanna A. Jones’ first experience with “Cabaret” was a production at the University of California, Los Angeles, in which she played one of the Kit Kit Klub dancers.
Today she’s in the spotlight, starring as British chanteuse Sally Bowles in the Old Globe’s new production of the Kander and Ebb musical that continues to entertain and affect audiences 55 years after its Broadway premiere.
The Globe staging is being choreographed and directed by Josh Rhodes, who first staged this production last November at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Fla. Rhodes is a familiar presence at the Old Globe. He directed and choreographed another classic musical, “Guys and Dolls,” in 2017. He choreographed the Globe’s world premiere musical “Bright Star” in 2014 and he directed “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” in 2015.
Rhodes calls Jones “loaded with this intense talent. She can sing like crazy and she’s stunningly beautiful, but she also has this laser-focus intensity as an actress that makes her really interesting.”
That laser focus is firmly aimed at what Jones says was “a dream role” for her.
“There’s something about playing a beautiful mess that is very attractive to me,” said Jones of Sally Bowles, whose wild ambition and self-indulgence amid the decadence of 1930s Berlin’s Kit Kat Klub is set against the backdrop of the Nazi Party’s emergence. “It’s so fun to be reckless and to just care about my coats and my men and my (musical) numbers. There’s something exciting about performing as a character in the 1930s. It’s an excuse for me to be super selfish and to have all the attention on myself.”
But Jones appreciates the danger that Sally finds herself in, and the monstrous threat closing in on her world.
“I’ve been finding this a lot darker than I’d anticipated. By the time I’ve done the last scene (in which Sally delivers a broken down rendering of “Cabaret”) I’m really kind of destroyed. It feels devastating,” she said. “It’s sad to play someone who chooses to close her eyes and pretend that the world is not falling apart around her when it clearly is.”
Rhodes considers “Cabaret” “the ultimate play that explains what happened in the world at that time. ‘Cabaret’ got it so right. It took that entire concept and shrunk it down to one group of people who basically live in a boarding house. It actually talks about why people made the decisions that they did. You see why Sally would stick with it and think she’s going to be such a star that it wouldn’t matter who was in charge politically.”
In Rhodes’ conception of “Cabaret,” the performers, including Sally and the Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub, are depicted not as mediocre as they are in many interpretations, but as genuine talents.
“Their art is their savior,” he said. “They’re surviving by singing and dancing, something that makes the world more beautiful than it is. They go out there and make the most of it.”
Rhodes said he sees The Emcee — performed here by Lincoln Clauss, who also played the role last year in Rhodes’ production at Asolo Rep — as “the artistic director of this theater they’re in. Art is his lifeline.”
Few musicals mingle shadows and light the way “Cabaret” does. It can be devil-may-care and raucous as in “Mein Herr,” “Two Ladies” or “Money,” and it can be haunting: the ironical delivery of the title song, and the chilling expression of acquiescence to the Nazis that is “Tomorrow Belongs To Me.”
“My challenge to myself,” said Rhodes, “is when it gets super dark how to at the same time keep it theatrical. I try to take the audience and dance them into the show with a little bit of joy so that the darkness isn’t seen right away. I have to go to the story. To me it’s pretty clear how it turns. And each turn takes us into darker and darker streets.”
Jones believes that both sides of “Cabaret” account for its sustained popularity.
“The fun parts of it are so appealing,” she said, “like the Kander and Ebb music. On the darker side, there’s such a poignant message that really stands the test of time. By the end of the show there’s something still in it that makes sense for whatever decade we’re in.”
Rhodes recognized “Cabaret” as a cautionary tale. “We all need to be reminded,” he said, “what can happen if we get too complacent.”
When: Previews today through Tuesday. Opens Wednesday and runs through Oct. 8. Showtimes, 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays
Where: Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Tickets: $52 and up
Phone: (619) 234-5623
Coddon is a freelance writer.
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