Theater: UT production of ‘Cabaret’ links past, present

  • Tanner-DuVall-as-Jim-O-Conn

    Tanner DuVall as Jim O'Connor and Elizabeth Cottle as Laura Wingfield in a scene from the Rep’s production of ‘The Glass Menagerie.’

    Todd Grinonneau

  • ‘Cabaret’ opens this weekend in the University of Toledo Center Theatre.
    ‘Cabaret’ opens this weekend in the University of Toledo Center Theatre.

    The University of Toledo’s Center Theatre becomes the Kit Kat Klub, the brassy, flashy 1930s nightclub that is the setting for the musical Cabaret, when the Department of Theatre & Film’s ambitious and imaginative production opens Friday.

    The story centers on the employees and patrons of the nightclub in Berlin, who are searching for fame, love, and sexual freedom, as Nazi Germany begins its terrible ascent.

    The university’s production will link the past of the 1930s with the present via stylized video presentations during the show. Holly Hey, UT associate professor and head of film, and her students have been working on taking both historical and contemporary materials to reflect themes in the play, said UT theater lecturer Irene Alby, who is directing Cabaret.

    The performances also have elements of social commentary. “The reason that I was interested in doing Cabaret is because I’m always interested in plays that have a social or political message,” Alby said in a telephone interview. “Cabaret is one of my favorite musicals, and I’m particularly interested in the message, because it’s really anti-hate. And I think that’s the theme we’re going for most of all.”

    Complacency, that “it can't happen here” attitude, is another theme, one that remains relevant. “[Today] we go online and we post where we are and what we’re doing, and we give all sorts of information about ourselves so freely and we don’t question how that information is being used, and then we hear about things like the NSA [surveillance],” Alby added.

    In Cabaret, the characters react to the Nazi experience in different ways; some go to the club to socialize and drink and escape what’s happening; others see what is going on but feel powerless to stop it. “The character Cliff eventually wakes up. This is what we hope the audience will experience — a kind of awakening to the truth,” Alby said.

    “It is a play that embraces difference ... it is a celebration of the fact that difference is a wonderful thing, and at the same time it’s a comment on that kind of extremism and hatred that leads to things like the Nazis,” she said.

    The UT production presents the popular 1998 Broadway revival version of Cabaret, which updated the original show with elements that focus on gay rights as well as racism and gender, Alby said. The revival was based on the book by Joe Masteroff, the play by John Van Druten, and stories by Christopher Isherwood, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, and was directed by Sam Mendes and co-directed and choreographed by Rob Marshall.

    At UT, the show is choreographed by Michael Lang, a resident choreographer/​artistic director for the Toledo Ballet, and will include a live chamber orchestra and feature such numbers as It Couldn't Please Me More, Willkommen, Cabaret, Don’t Tell Mama, and Two Ladies. Music director is Eric Dickey, and Denise Bernardini is vocal director.

    The show’s costume designer, Erica Frank, has worked in L.A. on the movie The Hunger Games, the NBC TV series Revolution, and the movie Neighborhood Watch. She continues to work on TV commercials and shows with her company based in Savannah, Ga.

    Alby is pleased with the cast, which is a combination of students and professionals such as Noah York, a film/​video student who plays the Cabaret Emcee. York lived in Germany for several years and has had a significant career as a musical theater performer, Alby said, appearing in the premiere of Saturday Night Fever in Germany. He also appeared in the film Boat Trip, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. Also in UT’s show are Juliette Quinlan as Fraulein Schneider; she teaches drama at the Toledo School for the Arts and has been a professional actor and singer for more than 30 years.

    Also in the cast are Lindsey Miller as Sally Bowles, Phillipe Taylor as Cliff, William Toth as Herr Schultz, Alex Hotchkiss as Ernst, and Ashley Stephens as Fraulein Kost.

    The audience will be part of Cabaret too — the middle of the theater will have tables that are actually part of the set, and will be available for seating, making ticket-holders “extras” during the show. Food and beverages will be available for purchase.

    After Friday’s performance, the director, cast, and designers of the show will come back onstage to meet with the audience for a Talkback, where the audience can ask questions about the show.

    Director Alby noted that parents should be aware that there is some graphic content in the Cabaret video elements as well as some mature themes.

    “Cabaret” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 4 p.m. Sunday in Center Theatre in UT’s Center for Performing Arts. Additional performances are at 7:30 April 11-12 and April 18-19, and 4 p.m. April 13. Tickets are $15, $12, and $10, and are available from 419-530-2375,​boxoffice, and at the Center for Performing Arts box office at Towerview and Rocket Boulevard on the UT campus.

    Tanner DuVall as Jim O'Connor and Elizabeth Cottle as Laura Wingfield in a scene from the Rep’s production of ‘The Glass Menagerie.’
    Tanner DuVall as Jim O'Connor and Elizabeth Cottle as Laura Wingfield in a scene from the Rep’s production of ‘The Glass Menagerie.’

    ‘Glass Menagerie’

    The Toledo Repertoire Theatre presents an actor’s dream of a drama, Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, beginning Friday on the 10th Street stage.

    “We had a huge turnout at auditions for this play, I think because it has such great roles for actors,” director Jeffrey J. Albright said in an email. “Actors want to play good, juicy roles. I could have cast this play several times over with the talent that came out to the auditions. This play is truly an American classic — Tennessee Williams’ first big success — and I am happy the Rep chose to include it as part of their 81st season.”

    The emotionally wrenching play centers on the failing dreams of the Wingfield family, headed by Amanda, a faded southern belle who now lives in poverty with her son, Tom, and her disabled daughter, Laura. She has ambitions for her children, but Tom turns to alcohol and the movies to escape, and Laura isolates herself from the outside world, spending much of her time with her collection of glass animal figurines, to avoid the sharp edges of Amanda’s ambitions to find a husband for her daughter. The appearance of Jim O’Connor, a dinner guest of Tom’s who is seen as a potential suitor for Laura, is the trigger for the destruction of the illusions of both mother and daughter.

    The Glass Menagerie premiered in Chicago in 1944 and won the New York Drama Critic’s Award in 1945. Its themes of ambition, loss, and disappointment remain valid today. “The play takes place in 1937... America was just coming out of the Great Depression and world events were such that the future seemed uncertain,” Albright said. “Today we are coming out of the Great Recession (or whatever pundits are calling the economic downturn of the past several years) and events in the world are casting an uncertain shadow on the future. The angst of Tennessee Williams’ characters is played out against the backdrop of this uncertainty.”

    The Rep’s cast includes Kate Abu-Absi as Amanda; James MacFarlane as Tom; Elizabeth Cottle as Laura, and Tanner DuVall as Jim O’Connor.

    “The Glass Menagerie” will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday on the 10th Street stage, 16 10th St. Additional performances are at 8 p.m. April 10, 11 and 12, and 2:30 p.m. April 13. Tickets are $20 general admission, $18 for those 60 and older, $10 for students 14 and over, and $5 for children 13 and younger; call 419-243-9277 or go to


    The award-winning Improvised Shakespeare Company makes a stop at Bowling Green State University at 8 p.m. Saturday in Kobacker Hall as part of the College of Musical Arts Festival Series.

    The group requests suggestions from the audience, then spins tales, all in traditional Elizabethan style and dress. There are no rehearsals, so each performance is unique. The group, founded in 2005, has performed at Bonnaroo, the Piccolo Spoleto Fringe Festival, and the San Francisco Sketchfest. Tickets are $39, $30, and $25, from 419-372-8171 or​arts.

    Lourdes festival

    Lourdes University Drama Society presents its seventh annual Festival of One Acts, featuring the winners of the One Act Playwriting Competition. Plays will include The Elimination Round, by Carl L. Williams of Houston; The Fish Pond (tied for third place), by Joe Lauinger of Ossining, N.Y.; The Jar, by Cynthia Mercati of Des Moines; Off Book (first place), by John C. Davenport of Seattle; Peaks and Valleys (second place), by Jeffrey Strausser of Houston, and Waiting for Seven (tied for third place), by Philip Hall of Longboat Key, Fla.

    Off Book, Peaks and Valleys, The Fish Pond, and Waiting for Seven were the winners of the Drama Society’s One Act Playwriting Competition held last fall. The competition received 125 submissions from across the United States and Canada.

    Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday in the Franciscan Center. Tickets are $10 general admission, $8 for seniors, from 419-824-3999 or at the door.

    Contact Sue Brickey at: