Broadway’s ‘Cabaret’ veterans travel to see NU’s version

Alexandra Finkel

During the run of Arts Alliance’s spring production of “Cabaret,” which opens Thursday, two audience members will already know the ending – and most of the song lyrics. Both are Northwestern alumni who have played characters from two different Broadway revivals of the 1966 musical.

NU alumni Gregg Edelman, Communication ’80 will attend Friday’s show, and Denis O’Hare, Communication ’84, will attend the June 5 performance. Edelman played Clifford Bradshaw in “Cabaret” when it was on Broadway in 1987, while O’Hare played Ernst Ludwig in the 1998 production of “Cabaret” at Studio 54. Following the performances, both actors will participate in Q-and-A sessions about “Cabaret” and about their careers post-NU.

Communication senior Meg Steedle, who plays the lead Sally Bowles, said she thinks the alumni visits will make her performance and the hours she has spent preparing worth it.

“It’s comforting to see that the alums have already been through all this and are still interested in coming back to where they came from,” she said. “We look up to these people, and so it gives us hope that we may end up where they are today.”

The show has been a year in the making. Producers Zachary Baer and Andrew Tolbert and director Katie Spelman, along with the Arts Alliance executive board, decided on “Cabaret” in April of last year. Traditionally, each director puts his or her spin on the production.

“One of the reasons I was drawn to this show is that there are about eight different stories going on in the show, and it’s up to the director to figure out whose story to tell,” Spelman said.

Spelman’s “Cabaret” follows lounge singer Sally Bowles and her relationship with American writer Clifford Bradshaw against the backdrop of the rising Nazi party and the onset of World War II.

“Not only are we looking at a part of world history, that is something that if it’s forgotten, then it’s lost,” said Baer, a Communication sophomore. “But it’s told in a way that is not just about the history, but it’s about humanity.”

This particular version of the musical is unique because the audience will surround a central circular stage, Spelman said.

“Because a lot of Sally’s struggles come from her inability to commit to one world or another, we thought that when the worlds started colliding, it was easier to tell that story this way,” the Communication junior said.

In addition to the circular setup, the combination of costumes, set design and lighting will engage the audience in a new way, Baer said.

“We have focused on creating an intimate experience where the audience is just as much a part of the show as the actors are,” he said.

Spelman said she hopes her original interpretation will draw students to not just “Cabaret,” but other shows at NU.

“I think student theater is one of the best parts of Northwestern, but I don’t think it gets the audience it deserves,” she said. “We’re hoping to pull people into this show with a new concept, and then, hopefully, that will push them to see other theater productions on campus.”

“Cabaret” will be shown today and tomorrow and June 5 to 7 at 8 p.m. in the Louis Room at Norris University Center.

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