“Cabaret” at Indiana University provides entertainment and understanding

Come to the Wells-Metz Theater from November 2nd to 11th (on certain days) – and “come to the ‘cabaret'”. Indiana University produces John Kanders and Fred Ebbs’ fiery, menacing musical about 1930s Berlin that explores the effortless, and often ignored, path to hatred.

The dramaturg helps to keep the meaning of “cabaret” understandable

Chris Mills is the production’s dramaturg or literary advisor, and the job of this “Cabaret” is to ensure the vision of its director and choreographer Lauren Haughton Gillis. “Cabaret” is one of those shows that is full of vision and meaning through both its words and its music.

“Kander and Ebb bring a range of musical styles,” Mills said, “from Jewish traditions, from vaudevillian forms and from jazz as it lived and developed in the German context. Haughton Gillis and Mills have had numerous discussions about how they can help audiences find ideas for their own lives in the show.

“Playwrights often work with playwrights on new plays in development, so they have the most contact with the play as it is being written.”

If the play has already been written, such as “Cabaret,” the playwright’s work is about understanding and communicating the meaning of the play and the director’s intentions. And of course the meaning is influenced by things like the era, the history, the playwright’s other works, and the politics of an era.

A play or musical can have one meaning in one time and a completely different meaning 30 years later or on a different continent.

“S“Because ‘Cabaret’ is such a popular work, part of my job,” Mills said, “is to remind ourselves of the play itself – in its original context – as we go through the process.” But the most important level is this Director’s vision.”

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Oppression and tyranny in the “cabaret”

For Mills, theater always makes a statement. In this production, “‘Cabaret’ is about what happens when the forces of oppression and tyranny arise and spread in a society.”

Cabaret,” she said, looks at what was going on – before oppression became deeply rooted. Audiences will watch as the tyranny and subjugation led by Adolf Hitler sprout and thrive.

“The power of political action – or lack thereof – determines both the plot of ‘Cabaret’ and the moment in which we live,” Mills said.

In “Cabaret” hatred arises quickly. The Nazi Party gains strength at the start of the show; It’s 1930 in Berlin. We watch people dancing and drinking. While the hate floats, it then pounces. So many are doing nothing to stop it. It’s easy to hate, as we’ll see.

A woman: director and choreographer

Lauren Haughton Gillis is the show’s director and choreographer, as well as a professor at Indiana University, and enjoys “broadcasting” this production to her students.

“My favorite part of the process is when we’re still in the rehearsal room and I see the students taking over the show from me,” she said.

During rehearsals, Haughton Gillis observes how their ideas, research, coaching, direction and choreography seep into the young artists. Then the show becomes them as they “sprinkle their magic over my vision. That’s when the show comes to life for me.”

Musical is a good way for students to learn

A Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater addresses three areas of training: singing, dance, acting.

“A show like ‘Cabaret,’” Haughton Gillis said, “is an opportunity (for students) to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to the stage. It’s a well-made, well-written show with great musical numbers.”

Even during a very early rehearsal, the journalist noticed how well the students were already prepared. They had only had a few rehearsals and the musical number, one of the most difficult of the show, seemed almost finished.

“I’m extremely proud of how collaborative this (production) process was,” said Haughton Gillis, referring to her cast and crew. “The designers were constantly coming to the table with great ideas. There was a real sense of team spirit that extended from the production meetings with the designers to the rehearsal room with the actors.”

When you go

WHAT: “Cabaret,” a musical about 1930s Berlin, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. The book is by Joe Masteroff and based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood. The musical direction is by Brandon Magid.

WHEN: 2nd-11th November at 7:30 p.m. and November 4th and 11th at 2:00 p.m.

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theater, 275 N. Eagleson Ave.

TICKETS: $15-25 at https://am.ticketmaster.com/iuartstd/.

NOTE: The show contains references to anti-Semitism, Nazis and sex work.

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