Set in a darkening 1930s Berlin and rife with references to homosexuality and the Holocaust, the musical “Cabaret” does not shy away from heavy subject matter.
For Ethan Karetsky ’14, the director of a new production of the show opening Thursday in the Morse-Stiles Crescent Underground Theater, “Cabaret” is above all a show about change.
“This is about the darkness that seeps into this show, how a culture is destroyed,” Karetsky said. “It is about watching a society change, and people living in a world that is changing.”
His hope, he said, is to present the show in the most direct way possible. With the goal of honest rendering in mind, Karetsky said he chose to take cues from the most recent version of “Cabaret,” which opened on Broadway in 1998. The show premiered on Broadway in 1966, and in its revivals in 1987 and 1998, aspects of the script and plot were tweaked to reflect an increasingly open society. In the original version, Karetsky said, the production could not portray sexuality as openly and was more cautious in its treatment of the Holocaust and the male lead’s homosexuality. He added that the 1998 production starring Alan Cumming and Natasha Richardson took the material more seriously.
Cole Florey, the producer, said he felt that “Cabaret” goes beyond its historical place and time.
“The show doesn’t have to be limited by its place in Germany,” he said. “The issue here is what happens to your culture when people aren’t looking, showing the shift in society, and how society can completely change, despite that very culture.”
With intertwining plots that involve sexuality, music, art, dance, expats and writers, “Cabaret” engages directly with the presentation of culture.
Michael Rosen ’14, the show’s choreographer, said that dance plays a critical role in developing the musical’s plot and characters.
“I didn’t want the numbers to be overtly self-aware, but to convey the sense of revelry and darkness,” Rosen said. “Sometimes the dance sequences accomplish what a scene could, but in a more interesting and unexpected way.”
He cited “Mein Herr” as a number that expresses the anger and disappointment of Sally Bowles, the main female character, to particularly brilliant effect.
Karetsky noted that had he felt his team couldn’t pull off large-scale dance numbers, he wouldn’t have even considered directing the show at Yale.
“I think that the dancing in ‘Cabaret’ characterizes the whole show. There is so much riding on the dance, and the actors have more than risen to the challenge,” Rosen said.
The Crescent Theater, an intimate space without a raised stage, allows for less-defined boundaries between the performers and the audience, as in a typical cabaret. The intimate setting means that while the audience is not literally part of the production, the action is pushed into their space in a theatrical sense, Rosen said.
Both Karetsky and Florey said they are excited to bring “Cabaret” back onto the radar of many Yale students.
“It’s surprising how many people don’t know the show, though a lot of students will recognize the music and some of the songs,” Karetsky said.
Florey said he believes that because the last revival took place in 1998, “our generation just missed it,” and said he looks forward to having students come who have never seen “Cabaret” performed before.
“Ultimately though, it’s a good production of a good show with good dance numbers, and that’s what it is all about,” Karetsky says.
“Cabaret” will run from April 5-7.