Show transports audience to a decadent and dark time in Weimar Republic

Published in the April 26 – May 9, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Camille Bounds and Marty Cheek

The decadence of urban culture mixed with the dark rise of fascism in 1930s-era Berlin provides the dramatic background for the musical “Cabaret,” which opens May 5 at the Gavilan College Theater.

Brian Carmack plays the iconic Master of Ceremonies character of the show, tying together the various off-beat personalities at the seedy Kit Kat Klub. Katya Blandino, a trained opera singer making her debut as a lead in a musical, plays Sally Bowles, a headlining singer at the club. And Jimmy Lopez plays her love interest, Cliff Bradshaw, an American writer traveling through Germany.

Carmack has traveled for 20 years in productions in the United States, Europe and China and is now working on a masters degree in art education. Audience members will recall Joel Grey as the Emcee in the 1970 movie version of “Cabaret,” but the Gavilan student brings his own interpretation.

“For me personally, the Emcee serves as a direct liaison between the other characters and the audience,” he said. “He creates accessibility between himself, the dark world of the cabaret, and the audience, while at the same time serving as a commentary on the themes and topics presented.”

Photo by Jan Hanes. Katya Blandino, who plays ‘Sally,’ belts out a tune.

The Emcee brings the story to life, he said. Through his eyes, the audience sees the decaying culture of Weimar Germany. The dark, lighthearted humor adds to the element of alienation.

“It is almost as if the Emcee is his own separate entity but has at the same time the responsibility of keeping the heartbeat of the show intact,” he said. “The Emcee serves to add the lightheartedness to the piece, while at the same time shedding light on some very dark, poignant topics and themes.”

In portraying the role, Carmack believes that one of the most important elements of the Emcee’s character is that he remains accessible and relatable to the audience. The audience must identify with, feel and care for the character, and experience an immediate personal investment in the relationship between the two of them in order for an emotional investment in the story and other characters to take place, he said. Because of this possibility for casual interaction and being in the moment, it is important that he remains spontaneous and aware during each performance.

Photo by Jan Janes
Actors perform a scene from ‘Cabaret’ during dress rehearsals.

Gavilan’s “Cabaret” will transport the audience to another time and place to find insight into their own lives and today’s society, said director John Lawton Haehl. The jubilance of a Berlin night club serves to accent the uncertainty and fears many characters face as Germany’s capital deals with the political, social and moral challenges of a corrupted leadership.

“Cabaret has been performed almost continuously around the world since it was introduced on Broadway in 1966,” he said. “The many revivals and incarnations it has gone through are testimony to the compelling characters and wonderful songs by Kander and Ebb.’”

Vocal direction for Gavilan’s version of “Cabaret” is done by Sandra Marlow. Musical direction is by Dana Parker. Gavilan producers are honoring Mother’s Day by offering free entry to all moms at the May 13 matinee.

Lawton Haehl has taught at Gavilan since 2006. He has directed productions and designed costumes for more than 20 shows including “Twelfth Night,” “Taming Of The Shrew,” “Lend Me A Tenor” and “ Evita.” He follows two criteria for choosing theatrical plays.

“They must have compelling characters and stories that grip or move you,” he said. “And they must have great performance opportunities for my student actors and majors. We are so lucky to have talented musical theater students at Gavilan. Brian Carmack is a gifted performer with a great history in musical theater. He is ideal for the Emcee character — he even speaks German!”

The role of the Emcee is a heavy musical theater legacy, Carmack said.

“With this character comes much responsibility and expectation. It’s impossible to play this character without referencing either the original production starring Joel Grey or the 1998 revival version featuring Alan Cummings,” he said. “Finally playing this role gives me the opportunity to exercise my individuality and my own viewpoint.”
Although it is wonderful to have the two iconic actors to reference, Carmack believes it is even more important to let his own creativity and individual personality shine through the material.

The material in “Cabaret” was written by Christopher Isherwood, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, and allows an actor an excessive amount of freedom for interpretation, which, in turn, encourages playful, bold and brave choices in the Emcee.

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“He is fun, dark, whimsical, humorous, spontaneous, and is responsible for keeping the heartbeat of the show going,” he said. “As an actor, I believe in incorporating as much physicality into each character as possible, and this character gives me a great opportunity to do exactly that.” There are few leading male characters in musical theaters which allow the actor such extravagant freedoms such as the Emcee does, Carmack said. His own background in professional dance lets him feel at home in the character because of the tremendous physicality involved linking the various elements of the show together.

What Carmack finds beneficial to his performance is that Lawton Haehl provides the “Cabaret” actors with the liberty to create in the moment, which makes for impulsive discoveries for the various characters, he said.

“I live for roles which allow for interaction between the audience members and the actor, and the emcee affords the actor the opportunity to make a real connection with the audience,” he said.

“There is a wonderful opportunity for each performance to be a unique journey. This is a priceless aspect of playing the role. I am very grateful and excited to experience this journey.

DETAILS

  • What: ‘Cabaret’
  • When: 8 p.m. May 5, 6, 12, 13, 19 and 20; and 2 p.m., May 13
  • Where: Gavilan College, 5055 Santa Teresa Blvd.
  • Tickets: $15 in advance, $20 at the door and $10 for seniors and students, and available at the college bookstore or BookSmart in Morgan Hill
Camille Bounds

Camille Bounds

Theater Columnist at Morgan Hill Life
Camille Bounds is the theater columnist for the Morgan Hill Life and Gilroy Life. She has performed on Broadway and traveled around the world.
Camille Bounds