(The cast of Muskegon Community College’s “Cabaret” includes, from left to right, Allison Boerema as Lulu, Nathaniel Luben as the Emcee, and Taylor Freed as Texas. Photo by Fred Reinecke.)
MUSKEGON — This has been a season of firsts at Muskegon Community College’s Overbrook Theater, one in which The Holocaust has loomed.
In October 2019, MCC opened the season with “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the famous play about an extended Jewish family hiding from the Nazis during WW II.
Now the college’s Center for Theatre is preparing to open “Cabaret,” a musical set in 1931 Berlin, Germany, a time when fascism is on the rise and the Nazi party is coming to power.
The show will run Feb. 19-23, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19-22, and 3 p.m. Feb. 23.
Until this season, in which MCC is commemorating the 50th anniversary of Overbrook Theater, the college had never performed either “The Diary of Anne Frank” or “Cabaret.” The pieces were selected, says “Cabaret” director Tom Harryman, from a sense of hope. The time seemed right.
“When we began looking at possible shows this … season, we did so through the lens of the common theme of hope,” Harryman says in his note for the “Cabaret” playbill. “Hope is a great thing to have, especially when going through hard times. It is during those hard times when hope becomes most important. Conversely, if everything is great, do we really need to hope it gets better?”
Hope has been the theme of this season’s Muskegon Arts and Humanities Festival, aka Ahfest. The current U.S. political climate influenced the decision not only for the Ahfest theme, but also the selections of “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Cabaret.” Common threads include present parallels with the past, and the fact that both stories end ominously.
“They are two very different approaches to a dark era in our world,” Harryman says. “While both exhibit a great deal of hope from the characters involved, both end in unhappy and ultimately tragic circumstances. It is good to have hope, but it doesn’t mean that everything will turn out fine.”
MCC’s show is the 1998 “revival’ version of “Cabaret,” directed by Sam Mendes, a 2020 Oscar nominee as best director for the movie “1917.” The current stage show is different from the 1972 film that starred Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, and the original, 1966 Broadway hit.
“Cabaret” is based on author Christopher Isherwood’s stories about his time living in Berlin prior to WWII.
With music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masterhoff, “Cabaret” stems from John Van Druten’s 1951 play “I Am a Camera,” which was adapted from Isherwood’s 1939 short novel “Goodbye to Berlin.”
The show focuses on the nightlife at the decadent Kit Kat Klub, and revolves around a writer, Clifford Bradshaw, and his relationship with a cabaret performer, Sally Bowles.
A subplot involves a doomed romance between a German boarding house owner, Fraulein Schneider, and her elderly suitor, Herr Schultz, who is a Jewish fruit vendor.
Overseeing the action is the Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub. The club serves as a metaphor for political developments in late Weimar Germany.
“What do these pieces of art say about their times?,” Harryman says. “What do they say about us today in our country? I suppose we can hope that ‘it can’t happen here.’”
Appearing in MCC’s “Cabaret” will be Nathaniel Luben as the Emcee, Jacob Westerhof as Clifford Bradshaw, Raymond Brock as Ernst Ludwig, Tommy Grant as Herr Schultz, Bradley Zoulek as Bobby, Isaac Hunter as Victor, Evan Sloan as Hans/Rudy/Sailor, Mark Breitenbach as Max/Herman/Customs, Julia Uganski as Sally Bowles, Amaya Fisher as Fraulein Schneider, Rachel Wade as Fraulein Kost/Fritzi, Melanie Lamrock as Rosie, Allison Boerema as Lulu, Stephanie Kennert as Frenchie/Gorilla, Taylor Freed as Texas, and Katrina Smith as Helga.
The assistant student director/stage manager is Stan Shank.
Tickets for “Cabaret” are $15 for the general public and $10 for MCC students and faculty. For reservations, call (231) 777-0324.