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ATC’s ‘Cabaret’ hits contemporary notes

Sean Patrick Doyle (center) and the company of Arizona Theatre Company’s ‘Cabaret’ in rehearsal. Photo courtesy Arizona Theatre Company

Cabaret,” on stage at the Arizona Theatre Company in Tucson through Dec. 29, “has toe-tapping, show-stopping musical numbers,” says Sara Bruner, who is directing the ATC production. “It’s wildly entertaining … but it also has real meaning.”

It’s such a famous show — there’s Bob Fosse’s 1973 film, the original 1966 Broadway musical, and a renowned 1998 revival, among others — that many people are familiar with the plot, which in the stage version brings together American author Cliff Bradshaw, English cabaret performer Sally Bowles, and the seedy Kit Kat Klub in Berlin during the waning days of the Weimar Republic, as the Nazis are beginning their rise to power.

“Cabaret is so beautiful and vital; it stays resonant,” says Bruner. “It remains a piece that at almost any point in time offers some sense of self-reflectivity on a really deep level in both a political way and also in a personal way.”

Bruner’s direction honors the past versions, but she isn’t seeking to recreate them. Instead, she uses them as a jumping-off point to explore how to present the play at this moment in time.

“So much of my career has been acting in Shakespeare plays,” she says, so for her, it’s all about the text.

While you can’t take a blueprint of Weimar Germany in 1930 and match it up with America in 2019, “there are things that feel familiar,” she says.

“There are lines in the play that you think, ‘My God, this sounds like it was written yesterday,’” Bruner says. “So we try to pull those things out and serve them up so the audience can hear them and enjoy them … and hopefully be moved by them.”

Sean Patrick Doyle, a Broadway, TV, and film actor who plays the emcee of the Kit Kat Klub in the ATC production says it is his job “to capture all the bawdiness and humor and extravagance of the Weimar era. But also because ‘Cabaret’ is in that time, coming off the censorship of the Kaiser Wilhelm era, they were allowed to finally, in clubs, not just include bawdy humor and provocative dancing, but political satire.

“We have a unique opportunity here to also comment on what’s happening currently politically so that it’s a double punch,” he says.

“‘Money,’ for instance, we’ve staged as kind of a comment on the 1% siphoning away money from the middle and lower classes,” he says, referring to one of the show’s iconic songs. “‘Two Ladies’ becomes a comment on toxic masculinity, through a vaudeville-burlesque lens.”

The entire show, he says, “comments on the dangers of apoliticism and apathy. That’s a lesson worth receiving.”

“‘Cabaret’ is undoubtedly one of the greatest musicals ever,” says ATC Artistic Director Sean Daniels, who adds that ATC, which will have a full live orchestra on stage, “is able to bring the best in our country to work with the best here.”

“In terms of artists,” says Daniels, “Sara Bruner is one of the hottest directors in the country, just coming off a smash hit at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. And Jaclyn Miller’s choreography wowed Arizona audiences last year during ‘The Music Man.’ With a diverse cast packed full of Broadway credits, it promises to be a ‘Cabaret’ and a night unlike any other.”

For tickets, visit www.arizonatheatre.org or call the Tucson box office at 622-2823.