Cabaret at Verge Will Steal Your Heart
A love triangle. Raunchy dancing, singing, jokes and laughter. The downfall of a free-speech government, the rise of a brutal, oppressing regime. Sexual tension amidst sexual confusion. Jazz, tights, lights, ACTION!
While this all sounds like a new television show pilot being pitched by FOX for prime time, it’s actually the age-old musical tale of boy-meets-girl and all-hell-breaks-loose Cabaret. First written for the stage in 1966, with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and a book by Joe Masteroff, Cabaret is based on John Van Druten’s 1951 play, I Am a Camera (adapted from the novel Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood, who recounts his adventures with nineteen year old cabaret singer, Jean Ross, while visiting the poverty-stricken Weimar Republic, circa 1929-1930).
Bringing Cabaret to the Verge Theater’s space inside the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture has been in the works for a little over six months. Director Nadia Mell, a Cornish College of the Arts graduate, wanted to see more diversity in our local community theater, both in casting and subject matter. Since Cabaret requires actors of all kinds, and addresses so many transcending issues, she felt it would be the perfect production to kick off 2023 at Verge.
I had the opportunity to meet up with Nadia at Verge and discuss the themes and relevance of Cabaret, the hard work put in from the cast and crew, and the many opportunities for the public to experience this immersive production.
Missy Glenn: How long have you been with Verge, Nadia?
Nadia Mell: I’ve worked with Verge as long as I’ve done theater in Bozeman, since early 2020. I am the director of this show, am on the team of educators, as well as on the creative task force. On Assassins, I did what is called dramaturgy, which is like the research and development of a show.
MG: Is this your directing debut, or have you directed other things?
NM: This is my directing debut! I’m really excited about it, actually — I realize I’m the first open transgender person/ theater artist in Montana.
MG: Well, representation matters so much. Especially here, where they’re trying to create legislation that would leave these kids with no options, no resources, and no allies. So for them to know they can grow up and do whatever they want is huge.
NM: I love how Verge, as a community theater, has a mission for education, and how they approach everyone with that mindset. So it isn’t just people like me with a (theater) degree. Anyone, regardless of experience, is welcomed with open arms to Verge, because theater is a shared experience, no matter where it is. Whether it’s Broadway or state run theater, it’s always going to be shared between the audience and the performers. I feel like this show will hopefully get people to see some musicality in their life.
MG: How long have you guys been working on it?
NM: Ooh, well, I pitched it to Verge about six months ago. Then we got our team assembled and got everyone cast right before the two-week break I took for Thanksgiving. We’ve been rehearsing weekly every night since. Not everyone is called (every night). So it’s called a Cabaret, because it is about a cabaret. It’s the primary raunchy entertainment (of the time). It’s more like Saturday Night Live, as much as anything else. Saturday Night Live is technically a burlesque in a lot of ways, because it’s like comedy, and it’s kind of sexy. Very bawdy. Also, it’s set in 1932 in Berlin, Germany, during the Weimar Republic, a new democracy made after World War I. They had very progressive free speech laws (though there was an overall cultural conservatism and laws that outlawed being gay). On stage, you were able to get away with that because it was considered art, right? These stages became bastions of queer folk, of immigrants, of innovators, of people with a lot of different, wacky political opinions. When we think of 1932 Germany, right before Nazi Germany, we tend to homogenize it and think of the goose steppers, the coats and hats and the swastikas and stuff, but there was a really diverse group of people. They all got swept up in the fascism of the day; Hanna Arendt talks about the “confident banality of evil.” She was assigned the task of psychoanalyzing the Nazis who orchestrated the Holocaust to see if there was an “evil thing” at the middle of it all. And the horrifying conclusion is that there is no key “thing.” Everyone says that they’re just following orders, right?
I don’t want to bog this particular interview down with a lot of the research, but we have done extensive research on how “normal” the Nazis seemed to the people of Germany at the time. I took a trip to Germany and visited the “Documentation Museum,” which was firsthand primary and second-hand replica documents that have more evidence from that year than I’ve ever seen in my life. It was fascinating seeing the cartoons and the caricatures they had about Jewish people in their Nazi newspapers.
The Nazis are bad guys. They go after bodily autonomy. They go after ethnic minorities and they go after queer people, and then go after free speech rights for artists. It’s easy to get distracted by that. Really, I think the core of this story is about Sally Bowles, one of the cabaret girls, who falls in love with an American tourist. Then he falls in love with her and they have a really amazing friendship. She becomes pregnant and they have the discussion about what it means to raise a kid in this particular society.
MG: How close to home does that hit? I can’t imagine how many people that will speak to, how much all of it is so relevant.
NM: I’d say that the show is important, because we don’t know how many times the show can get produced. I don’t know if Cabaret has ever been done in Bozeman, or the next time it will be. So it’s just one of those really great, iconic musicals and everyone who’s working on it feels that we all are working on a dream show. There’s a bill that’s in draft that would make it illegal for Verge to do this show… this exact show, while also having an education program for children. The “Drag Performance Ban” is actually a Transgender Performer Ban, because it defines more to it. It would define an actress playing Peter Pan as “transgender” or as “drag,” and also a transgender woman who isn’t doing any drag as “drag.” Definitely a show like Cabaret would be an issue, where we talk about mature content but it’s recommended for 16/17 year-olds and mature audiences, but still minors, legally, children. What that does is label Verge as a “sexual performance venue” across the board. So every single show, regardless of material, regardless of our recommendations for age, every single program would be considered as provided by a sexual performance venue, and thus be fined for working with children. It would effectively censor people like us from being on stage, censor a show like this.
MG: Is it a pretty small ensemble? Who is in the cast?
NM: We have 14 people; Tess Carr plays “Sally,” Mary Orr is playing another one of the main characters, “Fraulein Schneider,” and the American, “Cliff,” is played by Isaiah Duff. The last character is the “Emcee,” the host of the KitKat Club who will bring people to their seats and guide them through the story. Their name is Kat Baldwin. Lori Rosolowsky is our musical director — we are so excited for the live music aspect; all of the music is live!
I think there might be a specific recommended age, 17, maybe 16 years old. There’s nothing explicitly rated R. Harsh language, some “raunchy” material. No nudity. We have Tessa as our Intimacy Director. Everyone is able to be sex-positive, and also respect boundaries and be as prudish as they want to — so it’s a fun show. It’s a space where everyone can let loose. We’re really, really happy for this cast. It’s a lot of people’s dream roles. Honestly, it’s a dream show of mine. I pinch myself all the time.
MG: That’s amazing! And I can imagine the friendships that have been forged out of this project. That’s just the impact of theater — it’s like a ripple effect into the community, having this amazing show that not only brings people in to have fun but also sends them out thinking about what our current political and moral climate is like and what they can do about it. All the aspects of it seem so important.
MG: How many nights are you performing?
NM: We are going for ten performances over three weekends. We open February 10th and 11th. We are having a special Valentine’s Day performance Tuesday, February 14th, which is all cabaret seating. Then we go for three more performances on the 17th, 18th , and 19th. So that Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and then February 23rd , 24th , 25th, closing that final Sunday, February 26th.
For more information and tickets for all Cabaret performances, visit vergetheater.com. The special Valentine’s Day performance is all cabaret seating, and champagne will be flowing for a very unique, immersive experience!