“Welcome to the Kit Kat Klub! The girls are beautiful!” These famous lines from “Willkommen,” the opening number of the popular musical Cabaret, have been read many ways over the years, but in Jim Corti’s new Drury Lane production, the Emcee is simply stating a fact: these are the most beautiful Kit Kat Klub girls I’ve ever seen!
“You can show raccoon-eyed, heroin chic,” Corti told me (referencing Sam Mendes’ Tony-winning Broadway revival from 1998), “but you can also show elegance.” “We did a lot of research,” echoed costume designer Tatjana Radisic, “and we found wonderful photographs from the period with such opulent textures: silks and feathers.” “People went to cabarets to escape the ugliness outside, so that’s the world we created onstage,” said Corti. Indeed, from the audience perspective, the intimate scenes played like an Astaire/Rogers fantasia, while the big productions numbers put me at the Ziegfeld Follies.
Cabaret is the musical version of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, a first-person account of Germany on the eve of the Nazi takeover. The main character is “Cliff,” an educated but idealistic American writer who lives in a boarding house run by a middle-aged spinster named “Fraulein Schneider,” and falls in love with a high-strung singer named “Sally Bowles” (famously played by Liza Minnelli in Bob Fosse’s Oscar-winning film adaptation).
But the stage and screen versions of Cabaret are very different. Instead of counterpointing the Cliff/Sally relationship with the travails of another young couple (Fritz and Natalia), theatrical productions focus on Fraulein Schneider’s doomed relationship with a Jewish greengrocer named “Herr Schultz.” Together they have five songs none of which appear in the film (sung either alone or as duets), including the charming “Meeskite,” a Yiddish-based number which conveys Herr Schultz’ determination to remain optimistic even in the face of despair.
“We created a set that would place our cabaret inside the frame of a train station, to show Cliff telling this story from the time he arrives in Berlin to the time he departs,” said scenic designer Brian Sidney Bembridge. “But also to visually convey that these vibrant people are trapped in a spider web,” said Corti emphatically.
Cabaret will play at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace through October 11. For tickets call the Box Office at (630) 530-0111, or visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com.
Taking Woodstock, a new film by Ang Lee timed to the recent 40th anniversary, is based on a memoir of the same name by Elliot Tiber, and it’s a first person story about someone who primarily participated behind-the-scenes in the now legendary three-day music festival. Elliot is the son of Jake and Sonia Teichberg, first-generation immigrants who own a rundown motel on the edge of the Borscht Belt. The action begins when Elliot learns that concert promoter Michael Lang, a childhood buddy from Brooklyn, has been booted out of the real Woodstock (a town in upstate New York), and is searching for a new site. Elliot connects Michael with dairy farmer Max Yasgur, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Lee expertly evokes the era, treating the concerns of local residents with respect as hordes of young people in hippy garb descend on their peaceful little town. He doesn’t make a big point of it, but he does show that almost all of the pro-Woodstock participants (Lang, Tiber, Yasgur, etc) were Jewish, and this leads to some anti-Semitic incidents. Mostly, though, Lee plays the Jewish elements as comedy.
Demetri Martin does a good job in the center as Elliot, but the film belongs to its supporting players. Liev Schreiber (as an ex-Marine turned security guard), Emile Hirsch (as a Vietnam vet), and Eugene Levy (as Max Yasgur) are all excellent, but the standout is young Jonathan Groff as Michael. I saw the real Michael Lang on Book TV after seeing the film, and Groff embodies his laid-back intensity so well it’s almost eerie.
Unfortunately Henry Goodman and Imelda Staunton are too stereotypical as the Teichbergs, and laughing at their expense leaves a bitter aftertaste. But this is Elliot’s story, and in the end, the film succeeds in showing how a macro event (Woodstock) changed the life of one man (Elliot Tiber) even as it made an indelible impact on his entire generation.
I went to American Girl Place on August 12 to watch kids make “charity boxes” (in Hebrew “Tzedakah Boxes” and in Yiddish “Pushke Boxes”) in honor of the new “Rebecca Rubin” doll.
Rebecca Rubin’s story is set in 1914; Rebecca is living on Manhattan’s Lower East Side with her parents and siblings, plus Grandpa and Bubbie as well as additional relatives who have just arrived from Russia. There are six books in the collection, taking the Rubin family from Ellis Island to Coney Island to an ILGWU picket line!
The next tie-in event is a trip to Hull-House on Monday, September 7. According to Marketing Manager Adrienne Clarke, “Rebecca’s story focuses on a period in American history when millions of immigrants came through Ellis Island seeking new opportunities. We want to bring America’s ‘melting pot’ to life in partnership with Chicago’s Jane Addams Hull-House Museum.” The schedule includes brunch at the American Girl Place Café, a bus ride to Hull-House, and related craft projects after the tour. To make reservations, visit the website: www.americangirl.com.
TZIVI’S CD COLLECTION
Fans all around the world celebrated Irving Fields’ 95th birthday on August 4. The Latin-inspired Jazz pianist sold over 2 million copies of the ”Miami Beach Rumba” in 1959, and still performs regularly in Latin America and the United States to this day. His best-known CDs (Bagels & Bongos and My Yiddishe Mamas Favorites) are still available, but my personal Fields favorite is his 2006 collaboration with Cuban-born percussionist Roberto Rodriguez on Oy Vey….. Ole!!! Kudos to “Radical Jewish Culture” maven John Zorn for putting them together. Learn more at www.tzadik.com.
Jan Lisa Huttner (Tzivi) is the managing editor of Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples (www.films42.com). Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to Tzivi@msn.com. Visit www.juf.org for online copies of prior columns.