LGM #1: Preview #2

Eddie: What’s her (drag queen) name?

Tracy: Oh, shit! How could I forget? Quick baby, where was your mamma born?

Casey: Um…Macon, Georgia.

Tracy: What was the name of the first girl you kissed?

Casey: Angie McBride.

Tracy: Georgia McBride! Her name is Georgia McBride!

Eddie (over the microphone): MISS GEORGIA McBRIDE!

How Casey discovered his drag name, The Legend Of Georgia McBride

As a virgin to The Legend of Georgia McBride, I had no idea what to expect from playwright Matthew Lopez’s writing and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s contemporary twist to a show that was only birthed in 2014.

I knew the summary of the show: The protagonist Casey had performed as a Elvis impersonator in a club on Panama Beach, Florida, and when his act wasn’t succeeding, the club owner Eddie had to bring in some reinforcements to make the club thrive. What Eddie didn’t expect is that his cousin Bobby was now a drag queen named Tracy Miller. That is where the fun, joyful, entertaining, and absolutely fabulous journey begins for the audience members.

Casey shares how his drag show experience hasn’t changed his identity or sexuality but reveals his love of performing. He “love[s] the music, the make-believe…Georgia doesn’t bounce the rent check buying pizza. Georgia never lets anyone down. Georgia is wise and kind and dependable. And for a few hours a day [he] get[s] to be her and [he] get[s] to be those things, too. And [he] like[s] how that feels…if Georgia comes from [him], then all those things must be true about [him] too somehow. And maybe…one day [he can] be as good a person as she is!” Beautiful, right?!

Just as Lady Gaga concludes their production: Don’t hide yourself in regret, just love yourself, and you’re set. I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way!

I chose Sunday’s preview, because director Meredith McDonough, stage movement director (choreographer) David Roman, costume designer Patrick Holt, and set designer Collette Pollard held a special post-show discussion where they shared the team’s collaborative process. Director McDonough’s favorite part was when they asked the cast to create their characters: “What is your ‘kind’ of drag? Do you like Donna Summer, Beyonce, or someone else? We know that the character Casey is going to be a country queen, but what kind of country queen?” Drag’s element of surprise became the guiding principle of every component of the design process. The artistic team went on a journey to create a quality, constructed concept in a small amount of time. As an ATC cohort, the best privilege has been the opportunity to meet the fantastic, passionate, and professional artists employed by the Arizona Theatre Company. I was even able to meet the actors who play Jo and Tracy Miller! I am so grateful that this group of artists wanted to share their successful show with the communities of Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona! You’re always welcome, Milwaukee Repertory Theater!

Milwaukee Repertory Theater shares the same philosophy and offers the same theatre opportunities to the communities of Wisconsin, just as Arizona Theatre Company gives the most professional theatrical experiences to Arizona’s public.

MH2: Afternoon with the Kite-Flyers

“That’s not the way a boy grows up to be a man! But the one person who should have been teaching you what that means is the cause of your shame. If you really want to know, that’s why I made that kite. I wanted you to look up, be proud of something, of yourself.”

Sam, Master Harold and The Boys

MH1: Preview #2 A World Without Collisions

“If this is happening in your country, then God must seem to be crying all of the time.”

Director Kent Gash

A World Without Collisions is an ideal yet an unreal reality.

As a passionate theatre-lover, I am aware of various things that are happening on onstage, however my first priority is to listen to the playwright’s dialogue and its recital, the relationship between the characters, and the play’s themes. This time, as a latecomer, I was so impressed by the set built by Set Designer Jason Sherwood with the 1950’s Tea Room in South Africa and its use of the stage space (as the ATC always seem to do) with the customers’ table, the counter, the jukebox, and the rain behind the stage.

There are themes that I observed in “Master Harold”…and The Boys. One, the different lives between the inside and the outside of the stage. The life that happened onstage was a reality of friendship, kinship, remembrance, playfulness, and informality. The outside of what we was experienced by the characters and the audience was chaotic by Hally’s depressing family life and broken by the apartheid in South Africa. The characters and the audience can experience only by the various phone calls from Hally’s mother about the lame, pained, and alcoholic father. Another theme that I experienced was Hally’s immaturity to his shocking transition to adulthood, because of these phone calls.

I was honored to be at the preview where the audience got to speak with the director, the dialect coach, the costume, light, and set designers about the rehearsal and production process. I questioned about how the directors and designers could keep the play interesting for the audience with one set and only 3 actors, especially because of the last ATC’s production of Cabaret which had over 10 actors in the ensemble and various sets that changed constantly. Director Kent Gash answered my question brilliantly. When staging a production, one must play attention to the playwright’s directions in their play, the characters’ objectives, the demands of the play, having trust in the play, and the choices of the artists.

All in all, bravissimo to everyone who worked the production of “Master Harold”… and The Boys!

C8: Third Time’s a Charm!

I had a remarkable dream on Sunday night. My mother Lori and I had the opportunity to meet with the director, choreographer, conductor, and cast of ATC’s production of Cabaret, and they all knew me; it felt so real!

Because it was! That’s the life of being a cohort :).

Director Sara Bruner. Choreographer Jaclyn Miller. Accompanist and conductor Mike R. Padilla. Sean Patrick Doyle plays Emcee. Madison Micucci plays Sally Bowles. Alex Caldwell (Lulu), Brandon Espinoza (Cliff), Spence Ford (Helga), Lisa Kuhnen (Victor), Xander Mason (Bobby), Shaun-Avery Williams (Texas, dance captain), D. Scott Withers (Ernst Ludwig), etc. Lisa, Alex, and Sean Patrick exited the stage door, and all said that they were so happy to see me again. When Madison exited, I Told her that she was divine as Sally Bowles in Tucson and in Phoenix and how I cried when I didn’t get to say goodbye to her in Tucson.

My mom LOVED it. She said that it was the best version of Cabaret that she has ever seen! Just because it was a preview didn’t mean that all of the artists wouldn’t give yet another marvelous performance.   With great cheers and applause and a “break a leg”, I say auf wiedersehn to my Cabaret…for now.
Life is a Cabaret!

C7: Willkommen. Auf Wiedersehn.

Leave your troubles outside. So life is disappointing, forget it! In here life is beautiful. The girls are beautiful, even the orchestra is beautiful.

Emcee, Cabaret

Being the first and last word of Cabaret (i.e. Willkommen. Auf Wiedersehn.), I realized that this is both the supremely fortunate and unfortunate reality of a cohort. Our cohort team experiences a production’s first meet & greet to its opening night. A cohort gets to meet the cast, directors, and designers (maybe even befriend them), BUT the opening night is an unnoticed finale for us…and then we move on to the next show. I realized this, when I left my last showing of Cabaret on Sunday night. After saying goodbye to accompanist Mike Padilla and the beloved cast (Lisa who plays Victor even said that it was like saying goodbye to “my people”), I left the theatre with a thoroughly tear-stained face. My poor husband lol.

Apparently the smallest house that the show has had yet, the audience was very vocal, engaged, and overjoyed, showering the cast with a full standing ovation and loud cheers at the end. The performance was an absolute dream; a divine, comedic, and energetic experience. Wunderbar and fantastic! I love watching professional actors getting better every performance; they hear, listen, comprehend the pauses in their lines, the understanding of the language, the admiration of the script, the exciting of the choreography, and the intense drama of their emotions, the comfortability of their body and their interaction with the other cast members. I paid attention to the characters’ final lines from Sally Bowles’s “Dedicate your book to me” to Cliff’s “…and I was dancing with Sally Bowles and we were both fast asleep” to Herr Schultz’s “Mazel. That is what we all need” to Fraulein Schneider’s “I regret – everything” to Emcee’s “Auf Wiedersehn”. By the end, the life of cabaret and its party is dead, a ghost, a memory, and the Emcee wanted to keep it going, and so everyone is in denial.

Every time that I see a production, I learn more about it and myself; this time, I perceived different definitions used about certain words – love and tomorrow. Within Sally and Cliff’s relationship, it was both a romance and a friendship, a distraction and an inspiration. Their love might have not been the healthiest, but their need for each other was intense. Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz’s love endured beyond age and identity, and then they were tortured by the unfortunate emerging political climate (i.e. the Nazis). Within the song “Meeskite”, Emcee dances with a gorilla and expresses his love for her, progressively telling the audience that everyone should just accept one’s Liebe (love) even we don’t totally understand or accept it, and sings, “she’s clever; she’s smart; she reads music. If you could see her through my eyes, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all.” Obviously, this was a very controversial and uncomfortable moment for me. In terms of “tomorrow”, it is both certain and scary inevitability. Their ending visual is the unfortunate, current reality in our world…

“First they came …” is the poetic form of a prose post-war confession first made in German in 1946 by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984). It is about the cowardice of German intellectuals and certain clergy following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent incremental purging of their chosen targets, group after group. It deals with themes of persecution, guilt, repentance, and responsibility:

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Cabaret will be in Tucson until the end of December and it will be in Phoenix for the month of January!

C6: First Preview!

Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome! Cabaret is the best show in Arizona, and I got to see its first preview tonight!
Get excited about Arizona Theatre Company’s production with a live orchestra, a surprisingly relevant plot, a fantastically dramatic cast, and brilliant MAZEL!
Tucson: 11/30/19 – 12/29/19
Phoenix: 01/04/20 – 01/26/20

Madison Micucci (Sally Bowles) and Sean Patrick Doyle (Emcee) had completely breath-taking performances!

“I like this whole town…everyone’s having such a great time, like a bunch of kids playing in their room – getting wilder and wilder — and knowing any minute their parents are going to come home.”

C5b: “Amusing” Anti-Semitism

“It was good this time, but it was TERRIFYING AND AWFUL.”

David Kelly who plays Herr Max Schultz

The first recording of “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” is a boy soprano on the radio and it is quite haunting. The second time it is sung is during an engagement party between Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz who happens to have Jewish ethnicity. Unfortunately, it is a highly aggressive version with most of the ensemble joining in the emerging Nazi political party at the Act I finale. It is difficult to watch this as a Jew.

The blog title originates from the different definitions of “amusing” in the scene: Fräulein Kost says, “They have all the money – the Jews” in a funny, cheerful, and optimistic manner; Ernst is angry, aggressive, and pessimistic that Fraulein Schneider is engaged to a Jew, who is not a real German in the Nazi racist perception: “Fräulein Schneider – I must speak to you…let me urge you – think what you are doing. This marriage is not advisable. I cannot put it too strongly. For your own welfare…I do not find this party amusing.” His conviction is chilling and caused me goosebumps. It seem like some of the actors need to dance or humor or to laugh out of this depressing scene.

Act II finale is a broken, deconstructed, and an uncomfortable “Willkommen” with an unstable note to end “Life is a Cabaret”. The ensemble used to be a glorifying memory of the cabaret lifestyle, and this seems to be the beginning of the end of the world. The ending visual is “Don’t forget me. I hope that really heard me and what I said”, while Emcee wears a concentration camp uniform before the final blackout.

Last note, I see that Sara Bruner is quiet, perceptive, interactive, respectful, private, and a real leader. I really keep admiring her, and I can tell that her ensemble does.

C5a: Sean Patrick’s Day to Shine!

“It is so different to enjoy a show with a cast of five versus 15.”

Cohort Kathleen Phillips discussing about Cabaret versus ATC’s past two plays

The rehearsal started with a review of Cabaret‘s fascinating and abrupt opening number “Willkommen”. During my last rehearsal, Sara Bruner offered the cast her expectations of their performance: everyone must act like the STAR of the show! She has implied that she cast each of them because of their exceptional individuality. During Willkomen, choreographer Jacyln “Jackie” Miller demonstrated not only her unique talent but her admiration for her ensemble and their aptitude. Everyone in the cast is a star and a savage and a triple threat! For example, Shaun-Avery Williams who plays Dallas and is the production’s Dance Captain was killing it yesterday! Jackie worked with forward energy, levels, windows, and movement, and I appreciated her use of professional theatre vocabulary.

Next, the cast worked on the song “Money” where they were expected to be “constant hunger for money from the Emcee”. During a break, I approached Jackie with a question about her modern and bigger choreography vision, and why she didn’t choose Bob Fosse’s subtle choreography from his 1972 movie adaptation. She answered that some of her choreography choices nod to her icon, and that she desires not to imitate another’s work. I really admire that everyone is trying to be unique and not to imitate other prior versions (aka imitating-Liza Minelli for the Sally Bowles role).

The ensemble worked on their dance ending with a kick line that requires a sustained smile, which requires constant endurance. The fun cabaret dance becomes an emerging uniform Weimer Germany kickline which then turns into a Heil salute. This number becomes uniform, robotic, aggressive, and uncomfortable for the audience. Sean Patrick Doyle walked off the stage with a “funny” Hitler moustache, and he looked me afterwards with an apologetic and contrite shoulder shrug. And then they ended the choreography part of the rehearsal with the song “If You Knew Her” where the Emcee dances a modern, tap, and then a waltz with a gorillaish non-human and then ends with the words “But if you could see her through my eyes, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all!”

Oy vey!

About the Musical

The iconic musical Cabaret follows American author Cliff Bradshaw and his encounter with cabaret performer Sally Bowles and the seedy world of the Kit Kat Klub, presided over by the enigmatic Emcee. When Sally is fired by the club’s owner, also her jealous boyfriend, she moves in with Cliff and the two fall in love. As the Nazis begin taking control of the German government, the atmosphere of the Kit Kat Klub and the lives of Cliff and Sally begin to change dramatically. For all the exuberant song and dance, the most powerful aspect of Cabaret remains the political wallop that it delivers. The horror gains momentum around them, as too many characters stay locked in denial or self-interest. At its core, Cabaret is a devastating critique of apathy, and a clever and terrifying look at totalitarianism. 

On November 20, 1966, Cabaret first opened on Broadway, and the musical notably broke with many time-tested musical theatre conventions of its day, both in terms of content and form. Aside from a chorus of scantily-clad Kit Kat Girls and a plot that dealt frankly with anti-Semitism and abortion, the production also jettisoned a traditional overture and show curtain for the abruptly beginning opening number “Wilkommen”.

The Broadway classic was born when John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Joe Masteroff’s Cabaret opened on Broadway. But what opened on Broadway in 1966 is, for many, quite different from the Cabaret we’re used to seeing today. Cabaret has seen multiple dramatic transformations in both its book, score, and staging as it was adapted for the screen and then revived on Broadway three times. Each incarnation was groundbreaking for its time, but each new revision also pushed the envelope further and further, in terms of the authenticity of 1930’s Weimar Germany.

It started its life as 1939 semi-autobiographical novel Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood that recounts his time in 1930s pre-Nazi Berlin. The novel was adapted into a play, I Am a Camera, by John Van Druten in 1951. Harold Prince, producer of the original Fiddler on the Roof, purchased the rights to both of the novel and the play, and planned his own musical version of the story with Joe Masteroff (She Loves Me).

With Prince as both producer and director, the original Broadway production of Cabaret opened November 20, 1966 at the Broadhurst Theatre. The show was a hit, winning eight 1967 Tony Awards, including best musical, score, director, choreographer, and featured actor awards for Joel Grey and Peg Murray.

Liza Minnelli as Cabaret‘s Sally Bowles

Since then, Bob Fosse directed and choreographed his 1972 movie adaptation. The movie was a huge success both financially and with critics. It won eight 1973 Academy Awards, including best director, best actress for Liza Minelli, and best supporting actor for Joel Grey, making him one of only eight actors to win Tony and Oscar Awards for playing the same role. Even director Sam Mendes (Kate Winslet’s husband) put his stamp on the musical with a radically re-imagined revival at London’s Donmar Warehouse.

Only time will tell whether one of these revisions will become the definitive version of this Broadway classic, but we can probably count on seeing productions of Cabaret continue all over the world for new generations of theatre lovers to discover.

Read more here.

C4: Chaos

“I like this whole town. It’s so tawdry and terrible and everyone’s having such a great time. Like a bunch of kids playing in their room – getting wilder and wilder — and knowing any minute their parents are going to come home.”

Clifford Bradshaw, Cabaret I-10

I had the opportunity to see Act I of ATC’s Cabaret in its entirety with all of its transitions. Observing the characters, the actors, the script itself, the set changes, the movement, the choreography, the scene transitions, and how the businesses work (i.e. the Kit Kat Club and the motel), CHAOS is the best word for me to describe Act I. However, I happened to recognize the order within the chaos.

Director Sara Bruner desires more wildness, more individuality, more trashiness, as she advocates for her cast to, “Come as you are…make sure you capitalize on your individuality” from the beginning of the show as they “Wilkommen” their audiences with “slam dunks” of energy. She wants them to stay active with rigor and keen recognition of what is going on. Sara is fun and serious with her cast, manager, and other directors (I keep hearing her voice in my head predetermining “no hierarchy” in her rehearsals from the first Meet & Greet). She is a visionary, detail-oriented, vulnerable, and realistic.

OMG the best part of the rehearsal tonight was when I sat on a bench outside of the theatre, and my two favorite actors just literally stood in front of me saying their goodbyes to each other. After getting over my primary fear, I announced my admiration to Sean Patrick Doyle (Emcee) and Madison Micucci (Sally), and they are so excited to see me at future rehearsals! Let’s just say, I was completely star-studded 🙂

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