From Sept ’09 Spotlight: “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 the website.
Photo Credits: Johnny Knight
Top: Rebecca Finnegan/Bottom: Patrick Andrews